Monday, March 06, 2006

Manual Scavengers in AP - Dalit's State

The Hindu : Book Review : A national shame: INDIA STINKING — Manual Scavengers in Andhra Pradesh and Their Work: Gita Ramaswamy; Navayana Publishing, 54, I Floor, Savari Rayalu Street, Pondicherry-605008. Rs. 100.

"Nearly 15 years after the Union Government brought in the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, manual scavenging, one of the most degrading and dehumanising of the occupations `assigned' to Dalits under the hierarchical Hindu caste system, remains not the least affected by the legislation.

Ironically, it was brought to the notice of the Supreme Court in 2005 in the course of its hearing of petitions seeking enforcement of the Act that the number of manual scavengers increased from 5.88 lakhs in 1992 to 7.87 lakhs in the next 10 years. The Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has, however, put the number of manual scavengers in 2002-03 at 6.76 lakhs. (The Andhra Pradesh-based Safai Karamchari Andolan, an organisation working among the manual scavengers, has stated that 13 lakh people from Dalit communities continue to be employed as manual scavengers in the country, in private homes, community dry latrines managed by the municipalities and public sector undertakings including the Railways and the Army.)

In a historical overview she traces the origin of the manual scavenging to the Narada Samhita, which mentions the disposal of human excreta as one of the 15 duties assigned to the slaves.

"In Vajasaneyi Samhita," the author states, "chandalas were referred to as slaves engaged in the disposal of human excreta." In her opinion, manual scavenging expanded phenomenally and entrenched itself under the British rule, particularly in the mid-18th Century that marked the beginning of industrialisation and urbanisation in the subcontinent.

The text of the Act on abolition of manual scavenging and the conflicting views of Gandhiji and Dr. Ambedkar on the subject are valuable additions to the book, which also carries a brilliant foreword by Bezwada Wilson."

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