New Delhi: A sewer cleaner fell into a seven meter long manhole while working in it, causing Twitter users to react with anger and sympathy. “The rope couldn’t bear his weight and he lost his life,” said the Police.
The practice continues in India despite a 2013 Supreme Court ban on it. At least six such deaths occurred in New Delhi last week, 11 across the country.
A report released earlier this week by the National Commission for Safai Karamacharis, a government agency, said one manual scavenger has died every five days in India since January 1, 2017.
Soon, a crowdfunding campaign was launched on Ketto – a crowdfunding platform – by Rahul Verma, founder of a non-government organisation called Uday Foundation. He said the campaign has so far raised nearly $70,000 (5m rupees).
“When I saw the pictures on Twitter, I got in touch with Anil’s son. That little boy used to stay near that open manhole in the sewer, guarding his dad’s clothes and shoes. For him, the sewer was his dad’s office. His words horrified me,” Verma told Al Jazeera.
“People were getting emotional online, but my main concern was: there is no bread-earner left, what happens to this child, this family? Our attention spans are limited. I thought people might move on after 24-48 hours of outrage. So, I thought we must raise funds immediately so that this boy’s childhood is not lost,” he said.
#Delhi witnessed 6 deaths due to manual scavenging in 7 days. The practice is rampant across the country.
The govt, however, has no official data of how many people work as manual scavengers or how many have died on the job. #EndManualScavenging. pic.twitter.com/KOjA1z4zfg
— Mirror Now (@MirrorNow) September 20, 2018
Activist Bezwada Wilson, who launched the Safai Karmachari Andolan – a campaign against manual scavenging – in 1995, told Al Jazeera there is no political will to end the practice, which primarily engages the lowest rungs of the Dalit caste.
“There is a law in place but nobody will punish anyone here. Law enforcement is weak because there is no political will. Budget allocation shows sanitation workers are not a priority at all,” said Wilson.
“It’s getting difficult for this community to survive because they are already marginalized. Any person can call for a worker to clean their sewers. Neither can they refuse to work nor are they safe in those manholes. This is a vicious circle. In the past four years, more than 1000 people across India have died while cleaning sewers,” he added.
65% of households in Gujarat have to defecate in open. Though Mr.Modi himself says manual scavenging is a spritual experience-Shashi Tharoor
— ANI (@ANI) April 19, 2014
Verma added: “I shudder to think about what happens to other families when such deaths occur away from the media glare.”
Edited by: Pragya Garg