Watch: In ‘manual scavenging free’ Gujarat, workers have to clean sewage without any protective gear
The report by Video Volunteers also highlights official apathy towards the conditions of these workers.
The Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 defines manual scavenger as “a person engaged or employed... for manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of, or otherwise handling in any manner, human excreta in an insanitary latrine or in an open drain or pit into which the human excreta from the insanitary latrines is disposed of, or on a railway track or in such other spaces or premises...”.
In the video above, a report by Video Volunteers from Dhangadra town of Surendranagar district in Gujarat, workers are shown entering sewers and cleaning them with no masks, gumboots, or any other form of protection.
The workers have accepted their fate as their only means of livelihood. An aged worker says, this is the work of the “Valmiki people” – a “lower caste”. The report says: “The young sanitation workers are unaware that the Dhangadra Municipality, their employer, is legally bound to provide this to them or that the conditions they are compelled to work in are illegal.”
When the visual evidence was presented to Charuben Mori, the Chief Executive Officer of the Dhangadra Municipality, she shifted the blame to the contractors. In the video she says, “These are not our employees, so we do not know about their working conditions. They are employed by the contractors”.
The 2013 Act states, “If any Municipality has reason to believe that some persons are engaged or employed in manual scavenging within its jurisdiction, the Chief Executive Officer of such Municipality shall cause a survey to be undertaken to identify such persons.”
Video Volunteers is an “international community media organisation” that encourages community media by equipping people with video journalism skills.
Unsatisfied by the official reply to this video, they have put out a petition to collect signatures to urge the Government of Gujarat to take action against the erring officials.
Gujarat declared itself free of manual scavenging in 1992, but deaths from the activity continue to be reported.