A large number of people gathered for a rally in Bengaluru on Wednesday to protest against government apathy towards manual scavengers in the state.
Manual scavenging is banned in India, but continues to be practiced across the country; activists say lack of enforcement is what encourages it to flourish.
The protest march was called off after Chief Minister Siddaramaiah's Principal Secretary LK Atheeq received a memorandum from the protesters and agreed to call for an inter-departmental meeting to address the issue. Protestors threatened to resume the agitation if the government did not reply in two weeks.
The protesters included not only people engaged in manual scavenging but also college students, activists, BBMP and BWSSB contract workers, as well as human rights organisations.
Accusing the government of protecting perpetrators of the criminal act, Sathish, of the BWSSB Contract Workers union, spoke of how manual scavengers are forced to clean excreta manually in the 37 STPs set up by BWSSB.
He said, “A complaint has been lodged with the Safai Karmachari Commission and they have recommended action, but the government is yet to act.”
According to official figures, more than 70 persons died in the last 12 years due to manual scavenging in Karnataka alone. Among these, 15 deaths were in greater Bengaluru in the last two years.
Clifton D’Rozario, a lawyer-activist and also state secretary of the CPI(Marxist-Leninist) said that the government has been lax about identifying and rehabilitating manual scavengers.
He also alleged that the police department is complicit in this issue since they show a great reluctance to book these cases as culpable homicide and instead book them as just negligence.
Attacking the CM, S Balan, State President of the All India Central Council of Trade Unions said, “The Chief Minister is happy to wear a 70 lakh Hublot watch and is lax about doing anything to stop the 70 plus murders of those martyred in manual scavenging.“
He added, “These deaths have happened during the reign of Yeddyurappa and Kumaraswamy too and they have also been lax about the issue. He said that none of the three main political parties have any intent in addressing this issue and said none have taken concrete steps to stop this practice.”
The demands made by the protesters include:
- Appropriate budget allocation by both the Centre and state government to rehabilitate all those engaged in manual scavenging.
- Register cases under 304 II, IPC against BWSSB, KUWS&DB engineers, apartment management, manhole cleaning contractors, and others who force workers to perform manual scavenging. Arrest them forthwith!
- Pay compensation of Rs. 50 lakhs to the family of the deceased and provide decent, dignified jobs to them. Do not treat family as replacement for the deceased people who were performing manual scavenging.
- Constitute a committee consisting of BWSSB/UDD/DMA and Trade unions working with the manual scavengers to formulate rules, regulations, guidelines to end the practice.
- Ensure toilets built under Swachh Bharath do not lead to more manual scavenging.
- Ensure that none of the BWSSB STPs are cleaned through manual scavenging.