It is the most loathsome thing to do for some, yet it is the only way to make a living for others. More than half a million manual scavengers collect, transport, and dispose of human waste and everything else we flush down the toilet from drains and sewers around the country. They force their way into clogged sewers and septic tanks, where they stay for hours, scooping muck with their bare hands and smelling like sewage. Hundreds of manual scavengers die every year as a result of hazardous fumes.

Manual scavenging is widespread in India, despite the law’s strict prohibitions. Manual scavenging is defined as “the removal of human waste from public streets and dry latrines, as well as the cleaning of septic tanks, gutters, and sewers.”

Over the last few years, the number of people who died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks have skyrocketed. The number of deaths from manual scavenging in 2019 was the greatest in the last five years. While cleaning sewers and septic tanks, 110 workers were killed.

The Supreme Court of India has ruled that manual scavenging is illegal under international human rights law, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (CEDAW). Other international conventions that emphasize the responsibility to eliminate manual scavenging are also signed by India.

THE ABOMINATION OF MANUAL SCAVENGING: The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, made manual scavenging illegal 25 years ago, yet it is being practiced today. The occupation continues mostly due to the existence of unsanitary latrines. According to Safai Karmachari Andolan, an NGO dedicated to ending manual scavenging and maybe the only one in the country, there are around 2.6 million insanitary latrines (dry toilets) that must be cleaned by hand.

The scenario may deteriorate further. Millions of septic tanks are being installed in rural India as part of the Swacch Bharat Mission. By 2019, the Ganga would have accumulated 30 million septic tanks and pits. If fecal sludge management is not prioritized in national, state, and local sanitation programs, the burden of cleaning millions of dry toilets will fall on the poorest members of society.

LACK OF SAFETY MEASURES: While conducting a survey on the lives and working conditions of sanitation employees in Mumbai in 2015, it was discovered that contractors claimed a handkerchief was acceptable protective gear for workers exposed to harmful chemicals.

The government might put an end to the practice by following through on its commitment to mechanize sewer cleaning, but the rhetoric is contradicted by the government’s own actions. To make this a possibility, all septic tanks and drainage chambers must be built to allow for mechanical cleaning.

WAY FORWARD: The Indian government has postponed the deadline for halting manual scavenging at least eight times as of July 2014. To put an end to manual scavenging, the government must not only modernize sanitation, but also take proactive measures to ensure that people who stop scavenging have prompt access to housing, employment, and essential services, as well as hold local officials accountable for enforcing all laws prohibiting manual scavenging and caste discrimination. 


Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.

Do follow me on FacebookTwitter  Youtube and Instagram.

The copyright of this Article belongs exclusively to Ms. Aishwarya Sandeep. Reproduction of the same, without permission will amount to Copyright Infringement. Appropriate Legal Action under the Indian Laws will be taken.

If you would also like to contribute to my website, then do share your articles or poems at

We also have a Facebook Group Restarter Moms for Mothers or Women who would like to rejoin their careers post a career break or women who are enterpreneurs.

We are also running a series Inspirational Women from January 2021 to March 31,2021, featuring around 1000 stories about Indian Women, who changed the world. #choosetochallenge

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