Manual scavenging is an Indian English term used to refer to the manual removal of untreated human excreta from dry toilets, pit latrines or tanks.The task involves lethal risks, and has been carried out in grossly unhygienicconditions, with little remuneration – all of which contribute separately and in tandem to create a cultural quagmire. Manual scavenging has been explicitly banned as per an Act passed in 1993, and in 2013, the Manual Scavengers Act by the central government reinforced the ban and provided rehabilitative and compensatory measures for workers still involved in manual scavenging.
Despite such well-meaning actions from the central and state governments, manual scavenging remains a trap from which its practitioners cannot escape, owing to socioeconomic circumstances. At its root, the practice of manual scavenging seems to be a very specific cultural problem, especially correlating to caste dynamics. This casteism is exposed not only in the mainstream society’s and media’s utter lack of empathy for the manual scavengers, but also in the social unacceptance of attempted rehabilitation of manual scavengers. Any association with the task has brings an air of untouchability, which, incidentally, is also banned. It is almost as if the manual scavengers are being held in servility and in exile
Photography © Senthil Kumaran / 35 mm digital camera