NEW YORK (Jan. 31, 2013) — The United Nations human rights chief today welcomed the recent movement in India to eradicate manual scavenging, a practice traditionally relegated to Dalit women, and seen as a form of discrimination based on caste and gender.
Manual scavenging is essentially the manual removal of human excreta from dry latrines and sewers. In November, thousands of women of the Dalit caste – also known as ‘untouchables’ – began a 63-day National March for the Eradication of Manual Scavenging, advocating the elimination of this practice and calling for comprehensive rehabilitation of those conducting it. The march crossed a total of 200 districts in 18 states and will end on Thursday in New Delhi, the capital.
“I congratulate the strenuous efforts and commitment of the organizers, and of all the participants – especially the thousands of liberated manual scavenger women – who marched across the country in support of the many others who are still being forced to carry out this dreadful practice,” said the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.
“Because of the nature of the work, manual scavenging has contributed to a self-perpetuating cycle of stigma and untouchability,” Ms. Pillay said, adding that this practice is a “deeply unhealthy, unsavoury and undignified job forced upon people because of the stigma attached to their caste.”
Ms. Pillay said she was encouraged to hear that the national march has been supported by a wide cross-section of society and underlined that this degrading activity should be abolished and should not have a place in 21st century India.
In September, a new bill to ban manual scavenging and rehabilitate those who were forced to do it was submitted to the Indian Parliament by the Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment. The bill builds on the strong legislative framework already in place prohibiting untouchability and bonded labour, and adds a comprehensive definition of manual scavenging.
“India already has strong legal prohibitions on caste discrimination, so the key to the new law will be effective accountability and enforcement. It is also crucial that adequate resources are provided to enable the comprehensive rehabilitation of liberated manual scavengers,” Ms. Pillay said.
“This is the only way these grossly exploited people will be able to successfully reintegrate into a healthier and much more dignified work environment, and finally have a real opportunity to improve the quality of their own lives and those of their children and subsequent generations,” she added.