Manual scavenging continues unabated in Chenab Valley

Out of 2230, 2190 households have no septic tanks in Bhadarwah town

Tahir Nadeem Khan Yusafzai
Bhaderwah, Publish Date: Nov 23 2017 1:16AM | Updated Date: Nov 23 2017 1:16AM
Manual scavenging continues unabated in Chenab ValleyFile Photo

Despite legal prohibitions practice of forcing members of sweeper community to remove accumulated human waste from latrines and drains that too by government agencies is continuing unabated in Chenab Valley.

Jammu based All J&K Watal Association (AJKWA) has demanded that this practice of “manual scavenging” — the collecting of excrement from latrines by hand should stop forthwith. 

“The job is done by those considered to be of the lowest birth. These sweepers or untouchables often face threats of violence, eviction and withheld wages if they attempt to leave the trade,” the association members said.

“Laws exist to curb this form of subjugation, yet it remains widespread across Chenab Valley, especially in Bhadarwah town. Men from sweeper community not only typically collect human waste of the drains which comes primarily from the latrines of private homes, but also do the more physically demanding, and hazardous, maintenance of public sewers. Many suffer injuries and serious health problems,” the association members added.

 President of AJKWA Ashiq Hussain Watal claimed that according to the latest census, in Jammu and Kashmir there are 1.67 lakhs Safai Karamcharis and out of these 1.5 lakhs are from Watal Community.

 He claimed that despite several flagship schemes in place for downtrodden community especially Watals nothing has been done to uplift the community members. “It's evident from the kind of environment they are surviving that none of these beneficiary schemes reach them,” he added.

 "Although Bhadarwah is known as Kerala of J&K for its 100% literacy rate and Switzerland of Asia for it's mundane beauty but unfortunately Bhadarwah town has also gained the distinction of having maximum percentage of open latrines in any of the town in India,” said an official.

 “According to 2011 census, out of total 2230 residential houses in Bhadarwah Municipal limits, 2190 have no septic tanks and human waste is directly outflown in the open drains and our community is compelled and forced to clean this with hands everyday, despite a ban on this practice," Ashiq Hussain Watal, President AJKWA added.

 "Not only socially,  but despite putting in all the efforts of cleaning human waste by  manual scavenging since decades, we still are economically the most backward class, as none of the scheme meant for the upliftment of weak and poor has ever reached to our community," Watal added, saying that despite running from pillar to post to get our basic rights our condition has not changed.

“ Most of our community members are surviving in pathetic and inhumane conditions, as they don't even have proper shelter and are compelled to live in slums and on the banks of stinky sewerage nallahs,” Watal added.  

   "Not only we are compelled to live under inhuman conditions on a small piece of slopy land on the bank of stinky Halliyan Nallah but we are also surviving dangerously as last year my 2-year old grandson got drained in the nullah just 7 feet away from our hutment, but no one from the administration came to our rescue, "said Abdul Rashid Watal, a manual scavenger from college link road Bhadarwah.

 Not only the advocacy groups of Watal community but also some human rights activists and social workers have come openly in their support and are demanding implementation of the ban on human scavenging.

  “People work as manual scavengers because their caste is expected to fulfill this role, and are typically unable to get any other work,” says Imtiaz-Ur-Rehman Butt, a renowned social worker of Mohalla Sarafan, Bhadarwah.

  “This practice is considered one of the worst surviving symbols of untouchability because it reinforces the social stigma that these castes are untouchable and perpetuates discrimination and social exclusion.” Rehman added.

 It is notable to mention here that in 2015, the New York City–based Human Rights Watch (HRW) came up with a 96-page report, on  Cleaning Human Waste: ‘Manual Scavenging,’ Caste, and Discrimination in India, based on more than 100 interviews with manual scavengers, and documents how these wretched people are coerced to collect human excrement on a daily basis.

On the basis of the report, HRW even  called on the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to enforce existing legislation aimed at assisting manual scavengers to find alternative, sustainable livelihoods.