Protest demands end to manual scavenging

Nearly 1500 people including College students, activists, BBMP Contract workers, BWSSB contract workers and others joined protest against the continued deaths of those involved in manual scavenging. The protestors demanded that manual scavenging should be immediately ended and also that the officers responsible for the death of people while engaged in this jobs should be arrested. 70 plus people have been killed due to Manual Scavenging in the last 10 years. This inhuman practice has not just been banned but made illegal several years ago. There are several High Court and Supreme Court judgments on this issue and yet this practice continues. Several memorandums have been submitted to the government in the past but there has been no action.

On 7 February, people started pouring into town hall from 11am in the morning for the protest. The gathering at town hall was addressed by Dr. Akhila Vasan of the Karnataka Janoragya Chaluvali, Mr. Purushottam Das of the Canara Bank SC/ST employees union, Sebastain Devaraj of Karnataka Garment Workers Union, Prof Nagagere Ramesh of Peoples Democratic Forum, Prof Mangaluru Vijaya of National Alliance of Peoples Movements, Abhisek a student of St.Josephs college.

Addressing the gathering, Com. S. Balan, State President of the AICCTU said that the Chief Minister is happy to wear a 70 lakh Hublot watch and is lax about doing anything to stop the 70plus murders of those martyred in manual scavenging. He said that these deaths have happened during the reign of Yeddyurappa and Kumaraswamy too and they have also been lax about the issue. He said that none of the three main political parties have any intent in addressing this issue and said none have taken concrete steps to stop this practice. Com. Nirmala , Gen Secy of BBMP Guttige Powrakarmikara Sanghtane said this protest is a fight for dignity. Why is it that society makes only Dalits clean others excreta, as a society we all have to reflect on this she said. She also said that the caste system is the root of Manual Scavenging and that we need to eradicate caste to end manual scavenging. Com. Sathish of the BWSSB Contract Workers union spoke of how they are forced to clean excreta manually in the 37 STPs set up by BWSSB. He said that although a complaint about the same has been lodged with the Safai Karmachari Commission and they have recommended action, the government is yet to act. State secretary of the CPI (Marxist-Leninist) , Com. Clifton D’Rozario said that the government has been very lax about identifying and rehabilitating manual scavengers. He also alleged that the police department is complicit in this issue since they show a great reluctance to book these cases as culpable homicide and book these incidents as just negligence. He also said that a country which has developed technology to send satellites to the moon and Mars has failed to develop a technology to clean sewers, manholes and septic tanks without human involvement and that it is shameful.

Later, a delegation of those gathered met LK Atheeq, principal secretary to the Chief Minister in Vidhan Soudha and submitted a memorandum that included the following demands :

1) Appropriate budget allocation by both the Centre and State governments to rehabilitate all those engaged in manual scavenging

2) Register cases under 304 II, IPC against BWSSB, KUWS&DB engineers, apartment management, manhole cleaning contractors, and others who force workers to perform manual scavenging. Arrest them forthwith!

3) Pay compensation of Rs. 50 lakhs to the family of the deceased and provide decent, dignified jobs to them. Do not treat family as replacement for the deceased people who were performing manual scavenging.

4) Constitute a committee consisting of BWSSB/UDD/DMA and Trade unions working with the manual scavengers to formulate rules, regulations, guidelines to end practice of manual scavenging.

5) Ensure toilets built under Swacch Bharath do not cause more manual scavenging

6) Ensure that none of the BWSSB STPs are cleaned through manual scavenging.

He promised to call for a inter-departmental meeting within 2 weeks to address the issue. Based on this assurance the protest was called off, after deciding that in two weeks if the meeting is not called, the protest will resume.