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Eradication of Manual Scavenging Campaign

Navsarjan has been working since 1996 to end this inhuman practice.

Eradication of Manual Scavenging

Gujarat’s own Mahatma Gandhi called for the end of manual scavenging more than 100 years ago, and yet caste-dictated, government-funded manual handling and transport of human excreta persists. The Valmikis (manual scavenger and sweeper caste)—most often women—who perform this work suffer from a variety of serious diseases and disorders at a much higher rate than the general population. They are treated by both society and government as social outcasts fit only for this degrading and dangerous work.

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Dry “toilets”—often simply enclosed areas in which people defecate on the ground, leaving Valmikis to clean up the filth—continue to be used at an alarming rate all over Gujarat, in villages, towns and cities, private houses, and even temples.

Though manual scavenging is illegal, the government itself continues to employ the majority of manual scavengers, and society leaves Valmikis with few other choices of livelihood.

Estimates put the number of practicing manual scavengers at around 64,000 in Gujarat alone.

Navsarjan has been working for the eradication of manual scavenging since 1995.  It’s specific objectives are:

1.     To eliminate manual scavenging and all caste-based occupations in all their manifestations

2.     To create pressure on the State for the rehabilitation of scavengers into dignified occupations.

3.     To assist scavengers in finding alternative and/or self-employment.

4.     To eliminate sub-caste divisions and discrimination within the Dalit community.

5.     To promote and encourage participation and representation of Valmikis at all levels, both within Navsarjan and the larger Dalit movement.

6.     To prevent Valmiki children’s inheritance of the caste-based occupations of scavenging and dragging away dead animals.

7.     To address other violations of rights such as non-implementation of minimum wages, forced wages, etc.

Concrete activities of the Manual Scavenging Eradication Campaign include:

  • Lodging court cases and forcing the government to take action
  • Research to assess the extent and magnitude of the problem, and to further publicize a practice that many would prefer to ignore
  • Working to gain arable land for Valmikis through government programs
  • Running life insurance programs for those engaged in dangerous unclean occupations
  • Conducting meetings with Valmikis to educate them concerning their rights, and organizing unions
  • Encouraging Valmiki youth to join Dalit Shakti Kendra and gain skills to support themselves
  • Developing and implementing Ecosan (ecological sanitation) facilities that eliminate the need for manual scavenging
  • Coordinating with other national and international institutions to continue to develop new strategies to combat manual scavenging

Impacts and Challenges:

 Positive impact of this program has included:

 1.     Landmark court victories, resulting in the court demanding action from the Gujarat government

2.     The Gujarat State setting up a “sanitation workers welfare board”

3.     Hundreds of sanitation workers demanding and being given their minimum wages

4.     Dozens of life-insurance claims awarded, helping Valmiki families move out of scavenging work

5.     Court-ordered demolition of dry latrines

6.     Reduction of sub-caste divisions

 Challenges have included:

1.     Non-cooperation by the State and its local self-government bodies:  The government has not cooperated with scavenger unions

2.     Panchayats (village governments) themselves violate the law: The local self-government bodies are largely those breaking the law and demanding manual scavenging work, making the fight difficult and protracted

3.     Justice delayed is justice denied: The labor courts are unbearably slow, which hurts the workers’ motivation to pursue court cases and their battle for justice

4.     The union faces stiff resistance in urban areas:  The established unions within cities collude with the government, while unions established by Navsarjan are not recognized

5.     The workers are motivated primarily for short-term gains:  Often the workers only want to associate with the union if they can see an immediate short-term gain in front of them.

6.     Dalits overall do not see manual scavenging as a “Dalit problem”:  Most Dalits see this issue as one only facing Valmikis, and refuse to relate to them as equals unless they give up scavenging.

7.     Scavengers resist the idea of giving up the work:  There is tremendous resistance within the community against giving up this work, since they fear that their basic survival needs will not be accounted for if they do. 


To see the impact of work on the ground - success stories from the field - go to: http://navsarjan.wordpress.com