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MANUAL SCAVENGING: A NATIONAL SHAME

Manual Scavenging is a moral tragedy. It is also a man-made one. The manual scavenger is inextricably tied to the brutal realities and stubborn inequities of caste. Dr B.R. Ambedkar had pointed out that a scavenger is one not because of the job he does; he becomes one by his birth. The scavenger is very frequently also a She, a doubly invisibilised entity.

The indignities, about which we will report in detail, are commonplace and visceral. They are also normalised. To confront them fully would be disturbing for many; the urban middle class, the urban upper class, the rural upper caste and the many permutations of caste and class, all of whom send waste down holes and don’t bother looking at the hands that clean them.

Governments steering rapid market-led growth are often impatient with reminders of unfinished business. Sanitation is high on the agenda of the current government but the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet programmes, has remained focused on the number of toilets constructed. An estimated 500 million Indians still defecate in the open. Even the largest cities do not provide citizens with proper sanitation facilities. Meanwhile, thousands of women and men do one of the most degrading jobs in human history. Their daily routine should shame us all.

At #Grit, by The Wire, our reporters, contributors and photographers will write and report about these inequities. We will focus on the women and men who have been exiled from our collective consciousness, much of the media, debates in Parliament – and neglected by public expenditure. We will touch on the stubborn intersections of caste and the human rights violations faced by those who manually clean excrement in homes, open defecation areas, and open drains. We will file Right to Information applications and use data to examine hiring, subcontracting and sanitation practices of many institutions like the Indian Railways that continue to perpetuate manual scavenging. The sanitation worker in your city, as our reportage will showcase, is just a euphemism for a manual scavenger.

We welcome your comments. Do read, share and use #Grit to carry forward the conversation.

Siddharth Varadarajan

Sidharth Bhatia

MK Venu

Founding Editors of The Wire

Illustration by Satwik Gade