Manual Scavenging refers to the removal of animal or human waste/excreta (night soil) using brooms, tin plates and baskets from dry latrine and carrying it on head to disposal grounds some distance away. The system of building employing people for public sanitation was introduced during the British rule in India perhaps in the late 19th century when municipalities were organized. The toilets often used a container that needed to be emptied daily.
Manual scavenging was banned in Karnataka in 1970 and across India in 1995. But a people’s union for civil liberty report says that even today 8000 manual scavengers live by clearing human waste in Karnataka. Apart from government apathy, socially too, they are considered untouchables and have little chance of getting other jobs.
These workers deal with extreme stench, inhale toxic gases, and earn very little for cleaning a pit of human waste. The only way they bring themselves to do this is by staying dead drunk on the job.
Prabhu, a safai karmachari in Kolar Gold Fields said, “We drink from the age of 10 years. We can’t enter a pit if we are not drunk, so we drink from the previous night. I can’t eat if I see food as I think of the waste in the pit. Many friends have died young because of breathing problems.”