By Arré Bench Oct. 20, 2020
In Delhi, two people died cleaning a “safety tank” of a gold factory without protective gear. Last week, another two labourers lost their lives while cleaning a septic tank. We talk about Swacch Bharat but India has failed to protect its manual scavengers.
This Sunday, the lives of two sanitation workers, or manual scavengers, were lost after they were hired to clean a waste tank at a gold factory in Delhi. Both victims, aged 45, died after entering a tank full of industrial waste at the factory without protective gear like a mask, safety belt, and boots. Three of the workers who entered the tank lost consciousness after inhaling noxious fumes, and two, named Mohammed and Idris, were pronounced dead upon reaching the hospital.
Police have filed a case against the factory owner as well as the private contractor for the cleaning service under sections of The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, and IPC sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and 337 (causing hurt by endangering life).
Two men, aged 45, died while cleaning a safety tank at a gold chain factory in #Delhi yesterday. Idris & Salim were not given any protective gear — no masks, safety belts, helmets.
On Oct 10, a man cleaning a septic tank died, along with a homeowner who tried to save him.
— Somya Lakhani (@somyalakhani) October 19, 2020
On October 10, two more people died cleaning a septic tank in Delhi. The toxic fumes made them unconcious
Manual scavenging is an outdated practice, which involves workers physically removing human waste from gutters and septic tanks, a dehumanising and fraught activity that leads to high death rates. In 2013, The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act outlawed the practice, but it persists in the country to this date. This is despite mechanised methods of waste removal being implemented by the government is several states. The death of the two workers on Sunday was another reminder of the urgent need to end manual scavenging.
I never understood why there is no mechanized cleaning of septic tanks. Let these same cleaners operate the machines. Or better still, manufacture robots to do this work.
— Bevinda Collaco (@bevindacollaco) October 19, 2020
At the root of the continued existence of manual scavenging is the persisting existence of yawning class and caste divides, even in modern India. Ironically, a day before the news of the two workers dying in Delhi broke, a tweet by a media professional went viral, where she romanticised manual scavenging as a choice.
They chose this job instead of begging or becoming thief. Respect them❤️ pic.twitter.com/VS2A2mqZGU
— anu sehgal (@anusehgal) October 18, 2020
The tweet was soon called out for perpetuating the class and caste divide that has allowed manual scavenging in the first place.
Stop Romanticizing poverty.
Manual Scavenging is a crime.
"No job is small" is a myth designed to romanticize poverty and this myth is very deeply rooted in the mindset of Indian elites. https://t.co/TK63KFthfK
— Advaid അദ്വൈത് (@Advaidism) October 18, 2020
They didn’t willing chose this job they were forced by upper caste to choose this. The people who say this is better than begging and being thief have any idea how many deaths are caused in manual scavenging every year? They are not happy doing this so stop glorifying! pic.twitter.com/vU1yteZjnP
— Kanimozhi Manoharan (@kani_manoharan) October 19, 2020
Over the years, the number of deaths of people cleaning sewers and septic tanks has gone up. Last year, 110 workers died, the highest number of manual scavenging deaths in the past five years.
In 2020, the fact that manual scavenging continues unabated is a dark blot on a country looking to craft a bright future.