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Millennium Post

A repeated misfortune

A repeated misfortune

The death of sanitation workers in India, although outraging every time an incident is reported, is no rarity. Manual scavenging has been officially prohibited in many states, yet the inhuman and undignified practice continues due to both sheer apathy at the very basic level and lack of alternative and adequate technology. 34,859 is the staggering official number of manual scavengers that exist in states that have not illegalised this malpractice. As per reports, as much as 801 sanitation workers have died while cleaning sewers in the country since 1993. The intolerable stench and noxious fumes of putrescent waste is much too relatable; while it remains unthinkably possible to lower a human in a septic tank to clear out the hazardous sludge, the need of the hour is explained to be so pressing that the dignity of one willing human is readily sacrificed for the convenience of several others.

There are largely two aspects to this predicament: the human aspect and the technical/functional aspect. As far as the human aspect of it goes, it is reflective of the social dilemma pertaining to tolerance and acceptance for certain things that clearly place some humans well below others. Engendering from caste system of olden times, the carry-over of some of its most objectionable practices to this day is manual scavenging. The life of manual scavengers is of stigma and exclusion. They remain at the fringe of society, only to become involved for what they do professionally– and without adequate returns and compensation. They are the modern-day untouchables because of the progress that 72-year old rising India has failed to make. Investing in technology to replace humans in such occupations ought to be an urgent priority. Providing sucking and jetting machines to municipal committees for cleaning septic tanks is a dire necessity. Some basic social and civic change towards separating garbage at home and follow-up measures of door-to-door ­garbage collection, providing better and more effective safety gears to safai karamcharis and good quality bags for transporting liquid waste are the most basic of measures that must be undertaken. The way to resolve the indignity of manual scavenging is a change in attitude before everything else so that a human is treated as a human before anything else.

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