"Why cannot the PM announce, in the same spirit, that manual scavenging won't be continued in the country," Wilson said.

Why cant PM end manual scavenging just as he announced demonetisation Bezwada WilsonFile photo: PTI
news Manual Scavenging Saturday, December 17, 2016 - 20:13

Magsaysay awardee and social activist Bezwada Wilson on Saturday questioned why a swift ban on manual scavenging was not possible when Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes could be banned within a few hours in the fight against black money. 

"Why cannot the Prime Minister announce, in the same spirit, that manual scavenging won't be continued in the country," Wilson said while speaking at a session titled "Out Of The Pit: The Curse Of Manual Scavenging In India", at the ongoing Bengaluru Literature Festival.  

As a society, Wilson said, we have internalised caste system. "When I ask them why they continue doing it, they say 'it is my work'. Work that has been reserved not for the dominant castes, but for my people. Parliamentarians themselves ask questions like who will clean the toilets if they don't. Also there's no public pressure to end manual scavenging in the country," he rued. 

Wilson went on to state that the problem of manual scavenging is not a very "different business" and that it can definitely be resolved. “Having dry latrines in itself is a crime," he said. "What we need to do is to convert toilets into those with proper flushing system, which opens into a proper drainage. But we don't even have proper drainage systems,” he said while questioning the ironic race for the "smart city" tag without having something as fundamental as proper drainage. 

Earlier this year, when it was announced that the Karnataka-born activist would get the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award for “asserting the inalienable right to a life of human dignity”, he was overwhelmed

"I was about to cry. I switched off my phone and went away," he said adding that it was not because of him, but the collective efforts of people to end the menace, that they had been able to make a difference. 

It was however anything but a celebration.

"1.6 lakh Dalit women clean dry latrines in the country. You tell me how can we call it a celebration?” he asked.

Bangalore Lit Fest /Twitter

When asked, by a member in the audience, for his views on the Indian Railways being the "biggest employer of manual scavenging", Wilson blamed the lack of political will to end it.

Indian train toilets have traditionally emptied excreta onto the train tracks, which is unhygienic as well as corrosive to the tracks. Every so often, the railway budget contains a suggestion for installing bio-toilets in train coaches, but the progress continues to remain slow, he said.

“There has been a law against manual scavenging in place since 1993. There are over 650 districts in this country, each headed by a district authority. However, in the last 23 years, no case has been filed by any such authority against a violator of the law," he said. 

With practices like incorrect waste disposal, lack of proper machinery and poor infrastructure planning - like connecting sewerage lines to storm water drains which then require human intervention to unclog - and a general lack of responsibility towards disposing off our waste, it seems like it will be long before manual scavenging can be eradicated completely from the country.