Hundreds of sanitation workers from Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Haryana and other states held a rally at Jantar Mantar Monday, demanding an end to manual scavenging and seeking quota for economically weaker sections of Dalits in the existing reservation slab.
Raj Kumar Atikaye, who hails from of Ludhiana and is convenor of the Aadi Dharm Samaaj, which organised the rally, said, “Every day a sanitation worker dies in India when he enters the sewer. The government has done nothing to prevent it. We want the government to make arrangements for mechanical cleaning of drains.”
He also demanded a medical policy cover for workers, training for operating sewer cleaning machinery, and a safety audit of all sewers by government agencies, if at all one has to enter a drain.
On an average, one person has died every five days while cleaning sewers and septic tanks across the country, as per numbers collated by the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis — the statutory body set up by an Act of Parliament for the welfare of sanitation workers. As per NCSK figures, 123 people employed in hazardous forms of manual scavenging died between January 2017 and September 2018.
Swaraj India leader Yogendra Yadav, who was at the rally, said, “It is not that Western countries don’t have drains; people who enter sewers there do not die. When PM Modi came to power and launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, I thought it would benefit Dalits engaged in the profession. But nothing happened.”
“The PM is cleaning the feet of sanitation workers… but workers will ensure he gets washed away (in the upcoming polls) as he never spoke about sewer workers’ deaths,” he added.
Jasbir Singh, a sanitation worker from Haryana’s Karnal, said, “I enter sewers, but my job has not been regularised for over eight years. I get Rs 10,000 a month… I cannot think of sending my children to a better city for education… The system is designed in a way that our children also end up doing the same work as us.”
Manish Daitya from Rajasthan’s Ganganagar, son of a sanitation worker, said, “We want our share in the reservation quota to be increased so that we get good government jobs.”