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Why is there no political will to end manual scavenging?

Why is there no political will to end manual scavenging?


Dr. Bhushan Amol Darkase

India is a place of perverse social contradictions.

A few days ago, news flashed that in the QS World University rankings, apart from IISc, eight IITs (Delhi, Bombay, Madras, Kanpur, Kharagpur, Roorkee, Guwahati, Indore) are ranked among the top 500 globally. [1]

IIT Kharagpur has an associate professor who makes casteist remarks in an online class. IIT Bombay denies space for an SC/ST cell on campus (but has 4,000+ sqft space for a Gaushala).[2] Vipin P. Veetil resigned from IIT Madras over casteism, saying, “There Is Nothing Meritorious about IITs.” These recent events in IITs represent a continuous thread of discrimination. None of the IITs follow the mandated reservation rules in faculty positions. To grasp the discrimination in IITs, look at the article “The IITs have a long history of systematically othering Dalit students” -by Yashica Dutt. [3]

At the same time, we can see sanitation laborers working in dehumanizing conditions, reproduced by government authorities and municipal corporations, invisibilized by the so-called civil society.

There are safeguards in the law, in the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act 1993 to the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, to protect the sanitation workers. But even this law has been made useless. The 1993 Act remained unpublished in the gazette of India until 1997, and no state promulgated it until 2000. Bezwada Wilson called it, “The law is more like a scheme; it has no teeth”[4]; there has not been a single prosecution until now. A ‘sympathetic judgement’ in 2014 ordered that a sum of Rs 10 lakh should be given to the next of kin of any manual scavenger who has died on the job, including sewer cleaning, with retrospective effect from 1993. The Bhim Yatra of 2015-2016 documented 1,268 such deaths, but only 18 of the deceased have received compensation.[4]

The Twitter handles of metro city municipal corporations and even politicians brazenly display scavenging workers in dehumanizing conditions without any fear of the law[2013] which says such employment of anyone as a manual scavenger, in hazardous cleaning of sewers or septic tanks, could result in imprisonment or a fine or both; and any subsequent contravention of the law would mean more severe punishment.

The re-enactment of the 2013 Act is the result of the failure of the 1993 Act. The partial or near non-implementation of the 2013 Act represents the failure of the law in itself. The hypocrisy of law is nowhere better exposed than in the case of manual scavenging because the biggest violators of these laws are the Government’s own departments.

Are all the top science and technology institutes with global rankings incapable of creating technological solutions for sanitation purposes?


Is it the will of municipal corporations and government authorities to not develop or borrow technology to solve this problem?

Maybe both.

In an interview with Newsclik [5], SKA’s national convener and Ramon Magsaysay Award winner Bezwada Wilson claims, “The problem is that after all these years, the Government still has no scheme for mechanized cleaning. The Government only depends on some private individuals or some universities to develop the technology to address the issue. We demand that the Government have its own establishment to develop the technology and enough political will to achieve capabilities to adapt such technology at a national level.” [5]

One wonders what these premier internationally ranked institutes, lost in the hubris of meritocracy, are doing?

Maybe too busy practicing casteism takes all the time of these institutions.

But at the same time, there is the development of mandatory imposition of smartwatches called Human Efficiency Tracking Systems fitted with GPS trackers to monitor sanitation workers. In Chandigarh, this project is run by Imtac India, an IT services company, at the cost of an estimated $278,000 per year. [6] This online surveillance of sanitation workers is currently operational in more than a dozen cities, including Indore, Nagpur, Navi Mumbai, Panchkula, Thane, and Mysuru. [6]

Bezwada Wilson said that “It’s modern-day slavery,” adding that India’s “dominant” castes “still see the sanitation workers as untouchables. As if that was not enough, this tracking device has only reinforced that idea.”[6]

The state is ready to pay the cost of surveillance but will not give protective gear, medical care, social security, and advanced technologies.

The sanitation tracking system violates the workers’ right to privacy, one of the most fundamental & inalienable rights; without the right to privacy, how one can claim the right to freedom?

One can only remember the words of Dr. Ambedkar: “The untouchables need protection not from confiscation of their property but from having their personality itself confiscated.” What they have been deprived of is something fundamental—that is, their very personality has been confiscated.

Studies by various research scholars and institutions [7] show that Asian countries like Japan, Singapore, and Malaysia have successfully tackled sewage management problems. It is because of the importance given by foreign nations to implementing mechanized technologies, labor laws for safe working practices, and the political will to stop the inhuman practice. [7]

What stops Vishwaguru India from developing or borrowing these scientific models to end manual scavenging?

Why is there no political will in Indian authorities to end manual scavenging?

Why is there no awareness regarding the issue in society, and what makes the media never talk about it? [5] [Kindly go through the interview of Bezwada Wilson and the SKA’s demands in the Action 2022 campaign].

The problem is ‘caste’: the work that has been historically assigned to Dalit communities. The governing dominant caste-class knows that cheap manual labor is available. But it is more than just the availability of cheap labor. The governing dominant caste-class’ ‘internal limitation’ of maintaining social hierarchy that is integral to the status quo.

While deliberating on the limitations on sovereignty, Dr. Ambedkar gives an example of the those presented by Dicey. Dicey explains that any sovereign’s actual exercise of authority, notably by parliament, is bounded or controlled by external and internal limitations. [8]

The external limitation is the possibility or certainty that his subjects or a large number of them will disobey or resist his laws. Whereas internal limitation arises from the nature of the sovereign power itself. The ‘internal limitations’ are born out of the outlook, traditions, vested interests, and the social philosophy of the governing class. Progress depends more upon the governing class’s internal limitations than external limitations. [8]

What is this ‘internal limitation’ in the Indian scenario?

The internal limitation is the Brahmanical imagination of an (un)civil society, which is born out of the outlook, traditions, vested interests, and the social philosophy of the religion sanctioned caste hierarchies in India. The hierarchy is inscribed in the organization of urban space and sensory matter [9] that circulates within it.

The Brahmanical frame is so embedded in the psyche that it invisibilizes sanitation laboring castes and, simultaneously, draws from it its own superiority. The grasp of upper caste-class over these educational and administrative political spaces where they exert their nominative power and deny representation to those affected by these policies is derived from this frame. From the nonfulfillment of quotas in IITs and Universities to the Brahmanical behavioral dominance in framing governmental institutions’ policies has turned the social hierarchy into a permanent status quo of labor relations.

In the book ‘Republic of caste,’ Anand Teltumbde, in the chapter, ‘No Swachh Bharat without the Annihilation of Caste’, illustrates that “Cleanliness in this culture is personal and ritual in character; it does not have a civic component. This mindset shows in offices where people would wait for their table to be cleaned by a peon. They would not clean them lest it lower their status.”

A dependable purity but purity nonetheless. A purity piggybacked on dehumanizing others. Goethe says, “What is most difficult of all? It is what appears most simple: to see with your eyes what lies in front of your eyes.” The hierarchy inscribed in the sensory matter doesn’t allow the dominant to acknowledge the problem in its essence. It problematizes the word ‘Human’ and ‘Humaneness’[10] in the upper caste sense. So there is an urgent need to question this hierarchical consciousness.

In the book ‘Deceptive Majority’ [9], Joel Lee has shown how the ‘Arya Samaj’ and ‘Harijan Sevak Sangh’ [out of ‘fear of small numbers’ if untouchables were given a separate status out of the Hindu fold] infused the ideology of paternalistic Hindu responsibility of uplifting sanitation laboring castes. Both Samaj and Sangh facilitated the incorporation of these castes into the Hindu fold by creating a new genealogy around Rishi Valmiki. In truth, these castes were ritually neither Hindu nor Muslim in toto.[9] Which also reveals a blind spot of the Ambedkarite movement. If with the purported goal of annihilation of caste, the Ambedkarites do not build solidarity across the Dalit fold, it will inflame caste distinctions.

There is an urgent need to dislodge the ‘internal limitation’ of the hierarchical consciousness in society. There is an imminent need for a true personal representation of those affected by the policy to decide the course of their own upliftment. Lastly, the Ambedkarite movement must build bridges with sanitation laboring castes and all Dalit folds.

Every Government run body must represent interests and opinions of various groups in the administration. [11]






4] ‘Republic of Caste’ by Anand Teltumbde, Chapter- No Swachh Bharat without Annihilation of Caste



7] https://

8] ‘The Essential Writings of B.R.Ambedkar’ edited by Valerian Rodrigues

9] ‘Deceptive Majority’ by Joel Lee

10] ‘Guja-ratri- Reflections on Moditva’, Indian society is the very Centre of Fascism, by Sunny M. Kapicadu

11] ‘BR Ambedkar’s perspective on social exclusion and inclusive policies’, edited by Sukhadeo Thorat and Narender Kumar