Mahamastakabhisheka festival
Officials also claimed the temporary toilets constructed have drains, but activists who visited the spot said there are none.
Image for representation only

With the Mahamastakabhisheka festival in Shravanabelegola facing allegations of manual scavenging, the Hassan Deputy Commissioner has issued a strong denial of these claims. However, she could not justify why one spot had been earmarked for open defecation and could not say who would clean that place, even though the district declared itself open defecation free last year.

A group of 300 workers, including Dalits, arrived in Shravanabelegola on December 10 and are being paid to clean temporary toilets at the Mahamastakabhishekam festival in the township this month.

This triggered controversy, with activists accusing the festival organisers of encouraging manual scavenging.

The workers are from Chitrakoot district, in Uttar Pradesh, and have been promised Rs 8,000-9,000 to clean the temporary toilets between February 7 to February 28.

The Mahamastakabhisheka, a Jain festival held once in twelve years at Shravanabelegola, is set to take place from February 17-21 and it is estimated the town will host over 25,000 visitors throughout the month.

A report in The Hindu first raised alarm bells about the manual scavenging in Hassan, saying that insanitary latrines had been built.

Insanitary latrines have been defined as those that require human excreta to be cleaned or handled manually, either in situ or in an open drain or pit into which the excreta is discharged or flushed out. Insanitary toilets violate the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.

Hassan Deputy Commissioner Rohini Sindhuri denied allegations of manual scavenging in the district. "There is no manual scavenging. We have acquired 533 acres of land from farmers temporarily to build facilities for 25,000 people. Each of the 12 areas has toilet facility, which is connected to a drain, which will be emptied using sucking and jetting machines and will be recycled at a sewage treatment plant. There is no manual scavenging in any of the areas. "

However, activists from the Safai Karamchari Andolan refuted her claims. “There is no drain in the area where the toilets have been built. It is an agricultural land area. So how can they say that?” asks Babulal, an activist.

While the state government declared Hassan district open-defecation free in 2017, a coconut farm close to Tyagi Nagar has been designated as the spot for open defecation at the request of religious leaders.  

Rohini admitted that the temporary toilets were being managed by the Jain Mutt, which is organising the festival celebrations.

“The Tyagis are Digambar Jains and are set in their ways. They don't use the sanitary toilets that we use. The township has been divided into 12 Nagars and Tyagi Nagar is being looked after by the Jain Mutt. The Safai Karamchari Commission and the Revenue Secretary has issued a notice to the mutt, but the religious leaders said that they will defecate in the open since it is their custom,” she said. 

So who will clean the place once they are done defecating there? She didn’t have an answer.

Babulal, who visited Shravanabelagola recently, said, “The workers have arrived as they have been promised money. They travel to fairs in Ahmedabad, Haridwar and other parts of the country to clean toilets. They come down every year to Hassan, but this year the number of workers is bigger in number because of the Mahamastakabhisheka.”  

The workers are driven by the promise of money and cover-up the work they do from government officials, he added.