BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Friday, 30 November 2007, 15:30 GMT
Dignity demanded for scavengers
By Sunil Raman
BBC News, Delhi

Collecting waste in Nand Nagri, on the outskirts of Delhi, India
Manual scavenging is supposed to be banned by the government
Activists in India have begun a two-day conference in Delhi to discuss ways of ending the practice of collecting human waste by hand by 2010.

They say that some 1.3 million people are employed to remove human waste from non-flush toilets, a practice, known as 'manual scavenging'.

The conference has coincided with a protest by the workers and aid agencies helping them near parliament in Delhi.

They want the implementation of a 1993 law that bans the practice.

'Dignified life'

Around 1.3 million people, mostly members of the predominantly low-caste Dalit community, are involved in clearing human waste in areas where there is no modern sewage system.

They are shunned by the rest of the society and are forced to work for low wages.

Toilet museum in Delhi
Millions of people in India have no access to proper toilets

Mostly women, they are paid around 10-20 rupees (25-50 cents) every month from every household. In addition they receive a piece of bread.

The protest in Delhi was staged by around 100 activists, human waste cleaners and NGOs representing them.

Under banners demanding "a dignified life according to the constitution", activists talked about the need for state governments to be more active in implementing the law.

Bezwada Wilson, head of the national campaign to end the practise of human scavenging by 2010, said that state governments had failed to take steps under the law to identify such people and help them get alternate jobs.

He said caste prejudice came in the way of millions of poor people finding different work.

'Ignored'

Pinky, 18, used to clean human waste from the age of 11 years in the town of Sikar in the state of Rajasthan.

Social activists managed to extricate Pinky and her parents from working as human scavengers.

But she complained that there was nothing else for them to do.

"My mother is without work, my father works in a local hospital. We are five children and it is difficult to survive," she said.

The problem faced by activists involved in freeing people from the practice was highlighted by Sohanlal, an activist from Sikar.

"Around 30 women we identified have refused to stop cleaning human waste because they want assured jobs from us. But the government is not helping us. Proposals sent to the local administration have been ignored," he said.

Under the law state governments have to ensure the building of modern sewage systems, but most states have lagged behind.

NGOs allege that a Supreme Court order for them regularly to monitor the problem is not being followed.

SEE ALSO
Toilet conference opens in Delhi
31 Oct 07 |  South Asia
No toilet, no seat, says minister
03 Aug 05 |  South Asia
Loo summit to be flushed with success
27 Jul 05 |  Northern Ireland
Help for Bangalore's dirty work
22 Apr 03 |  South Asia
Bangalore's 'night soil' collectors
02 Sep 02 |  South Asia

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific