A group of students, all belonging to Scheduled Caste (SC) communities, were allegedly forced to clean a septic tank used for human waste disposal, at a residential school in Karnataka’s Kolar district. When news of the incident broke out, the state administration suspended three staff members including the principal of the school on Sunday, December 17.
The incident came to light after photos and videos of a group of Dalit students being forced to clean the septic tank began to emerge. Photographs showing the students inside manholes circulated widely on social media, accompanied by videos in which students said that teachers compelled them to enter manholes for cleaning purposes. The video showed a group of five to six students from grades 7 to 9 were made to enter the septic tank while the principal and a teacher were seen ‘supervising’ it. The incident took place at Morarji Desai Residential School in Malur taluk.
The Joint Director of the Social Welfare Department filed a complaint, prompting Kolar Police to initiate an FIR. Kolar police registered a case under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. Social Welfare Minister HC Mahadevappa announced the suspension of the principal and warden. Principal Bharathamma, along with teachers Muniyappa and Abhishek, as well as hostel warden Manjunath were suspended. No arrests have been made yet as the accused are still at large.
“A responsible organisation can’t employ children for such work. It is highly condemnable. As soon as I came to know about this, I called the principal and suspended the principal, warden and other officials,” the state’s social welfare minister HC Mahadevappa said in an order on Sunday.
R Ashok, the Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly, has called for a judicial investigation into the incident. According to him, the CID probe announced by the state government would not do justice to the episode as there is a slew of other alleged irregularities associated with the particular school as well as other Morarji Desai schools in the State.
Manual scavenging has been prohibited by the Indian government since 1993, but it was only after widespread protests by Dalit groups that the practice was made a punishable offence in 2013.