The Ramon Magasasay award winner, Mr Bezwada Wilson, has been fighting for the rights of manual scavengers for the past three decades. In an exclusive interview with DECCAN CHRONICLE, he talks about the trauma and humiliation manual scavengers go through and the role of caste system that leaves generations with no choice but to continue with scavenging, and the government's indifferent attitude towards them. Aksheev Thakur reports.
The problem of manual scavenging can be solved with acknowledgement. Don’t states acknowledge manual scavenging as an issue?
Not only the states, even many people are under the impression that since manual scavengers are not employed by municipalities, scavenging does not exist. The government should change its policies and take affirmative action against the practice that takes away human dignity. When a Supreme Court order clearly talks about eradication of scavenging, it doesn't make sense why agencies concerned cannot implement it.
Why can’t the government make use of technology? Is the government not interested in investing in it?
The government must first accept that manual scavenging in still going on. They have not taken a single step. In this country, there is no data on septic tanks. Before talking about smart cities, the Prime Minister must talk about smart sanitation. Under its Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the government had planned to build 21 crore toilets by 2019. Did they think in terms of the number of septic tanks and the burden it will have on scavengers? When we have advanced so much in terms of technology, I can't understand why we still need to send someone 5-10 feet deep into sewer lines. This takes away their dignity and this is happening in independent India.
Dalits and marginalised sections have always been victim of manual scavenging. What do you have to say on that?
This is a 100% case of caste and patriarchy, or else generations after generations wouldn't have been employed in this act. Nobody thinks where the 'latrine' goes since most of the people are under the impression that the job will be done by the untouchables. The SC judgement says the death of every manual scavenger since 1993 should be compensated with Rs 10 lakh.
Barring a few instances, hardly, anybody was compensated.
What are the impediments in getting the compensation?
(Smiles) The family of the scavenger has to submit the copy of FIR, death certificate and many other documents. The problem is much worse in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, J&K and some parts of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
Often it is seen that when scavengers come out of the manhole and they need water to clean their bodies, nobody offers it. Is society oblivious to the issue?
The facilities given to the community are limited. They are deprived of everything. As I said, nobody is bothered about them and this has been continuing for generations. In the past six years, over 1,670 manual scavengers have died. The health hazards and the trauma they go through is immense.