Women manual scavengers demand dignity of labour

August 27th, 2008 - 11:08 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 27 (IANS) Demanding dignity of labour and implementation of existing laws and provisions to eradicate the practice of manual scavenging, women from scavenging communities from Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat are set to meet the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) here Thursday. “The National Human Rights Commission is meeting with these women tomorrow. We will demand a revision of laws and counter policies,” Ashif Sheikh, coordinator of Garima Abhiyan, an NGO working with scavenging and Dalit communities in Madhya Pradesh, told IANS.

“The surveys so far - institutional and government based - are not comprehensive. They report wrong and misleading numbers of illegal practices of manual scavenging. We will demand for identification of scavengers through comprehensive reliable survey methods,” he said.

The inhuman practice of manual scavenging, which involves cleaning dry latrines and clearing carcasses with bare hands is an offence under the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry (non-flush) Latrines (Prohibition) Act 1993.

Under the same law, the government had committed to eradicate the practice by Dec 31, 2007, but the date has now been reset to March 2009.

“The practice of manual scavenging exists unchecked from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Many cases remain unidentified and ignored by local authorities, who claim they aren’t accountable,” Sheikh added.

Said Raniben, one of the 250 women from Dalit communities from Madhya Pradesh’s Dewas district: “Scavenging is something that is handed down to daughter-in-laws and passed on to generations after. Soon after my marriage, I was given a cane basket and told that clearing toilets is my destiny. I felt shattered.”

“If you dare to go against caste norms and leave the practice - you have to deal with the social and economic ostracisation that follows.”

United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Geneva 2007, describes manual scavenging as the most indecent form of work.

According to government statistics, an estimated one million Dalits in India are manual scavengers - 98 percent of them women.

“The government of India has not only missed the mark, but denies defiantly any existence of such practice whatsoever. The practice of manual scavenging exists as a reminder of worst form of caste bondage in our society,” said Suresh Parmar of Navsarjan Trust, an NGO working on the rights of scavenging and Dalit communities in Gujrat.

Added Sheikh: “The government and society is in denial. Even with adequate fund allocation, the political will to address the issue does not exist.”

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