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20,000 signatures, video force Gujarat official to "investigate" manual scavenging in Surendranagar district

By Sangeeta Rane*
Amidst current imbroglio around the Una incident in which four Dalits were thrashed for skinning a dead cow, the Surendranagar district collector, seeking to address Dalits' issues, has decided to take steps to “investigate” the practice of employing manual scavengers, considered the lowest category in Dalit hierarchy.
The district collecting has decided to hold a meeting next week with the chief executive officers (CEOs) of the district's seven municipalities following the Video Volunteers, the media and human rights organisation, calling on him on August 1, submitting a video (click HERE) as proof of manual scavenging being practiced.
Along with the video, a petition with more than 20,000 signatories was handed over to him. The petition, submitted by Video Volunteers Community correspondent Bipin Solanki, demanded that justice and action against the “negligent attitude” of Dhrangadra municipality in Surendranagar district for “blatantly violating the Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.”
“The district collector was surprised that manual scavenging is still practiced in his district. He said that he will set up a committee for regular monitoring of the region’s sanitation work,” said Solanki, whose video is responsible for highlighting the ongoing issue. Solanki reports on human rights violations, particularly caste-based discrimination in Surendranagar.
“Even as thousands of Dalits are protesting the streets of Gujarat, it is an outrage to see the persistent practice of manual scavenging in Dhrangadhra Municipality and many other places”, said Stalin K, director, Video Volunteers.
The issue was highlighted by Solanki in May through a video report which shows Umesh, 23, a young man belonging to Valmiki caste, enter a filthy sewer without any protective gears and cleaning equipment, and clean it with their bare hands. Such employment without protective gear and equipment is an offence under the Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.
The video exposes Dhrangadra CEO’s denial of the existence of manual scavenging. The official is seen passing the blame on to the contractor. “These workers are not our responsibility since they are hired by a contractor. I am well-aware that such actions are illegal and thus the municipality does not engage any manual scavengers,” the official had told Solanki.
Enraged by the negligence of administration and their lack of empathy, Video Volunteershad launched an online petition, appealing to the District Collector to take action against Charu Mori, the official, and appealed for effective and periodic monitoring of sanitation work. Over a period of three months, the petition gathered more than 20,000 signatures across the country.
Video Volunteers is a global initiative that empowers disadvantaged communities with socially-impactful stories and data gathering skills, even as training them to use video as a tool to mobilise for change. In India, the organisation is spread across 200 marginalised communities.
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*Communication Coordinator, Video Volunteers

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