Mumbai : Nearly 200 scavengers from across Maharashtra protested here Monday to press their demands for an end to the pernicious practice even as actor-activist Aamir Khan called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the capital to discuss their plight.
Led by a social group, Campaign Against Manual Scavenging in Maharashtra, the protesters were barely a fraction of the estimated 35,000 manual scavengers in the state, engaged in the dehumanising work for decades, said their leader Pradip More.
Among other things, the scavengers are demanding alternate and dignified jobs, decent housing and education.
“In December last year, a public interest litigation in this regard was filed in the Bombay High Court. Three hearings have been held so far, but not a single official from any of the departments concerned attended it. The matter is getting delayed… The next hearing is on July 26,” More told IANS.
The social group’s lawyer Asim Sarode said that manual scavenging has been banned in India under the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993.
“Unfortunately, over 65 years after independence, this degrading activity continues in Maharashtra and around the country. The central government is planning a new law in the current (monsoon) session of parliament which is expected to be more effective,” Sarode said.
More and his team of activists, who surveyed various cities in the state where manual scavengers are reportedly hired, were shocked to find its prevalence in some of the most unexpected areas.
“We found this practice in Pune, the cultural capital of state, and the largest number of manual scavengers in Pandharpur, the holy city of god Vithoba, besides Nagpur, Parbhani, Solapur and Paithan,” More said.
He said the group is now planning to carry out a systematic survey as in many cities, manual scavengers are given employment under different names, like, “sanitary worker.”
Referring to ‘Satyameva Jayate,’ a highly popular television Sunday TV show hosted by Aamir Khan, which recently discussed the subject, More and Sarode said that it highlighted the issue effectively and resulted in generating a debate in the country.
“We are hopeful that the government will take steps to curb this undignified practice and rehabilitate the manual scavengers,” Sarode said.
According to Aamir Khan, there were over a million people across the country doing the degrading job of carrying headloads, including clearing of the tracks of Indian Railways.