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Manual Scavenging – Social cause | NGO Watch

When Karan (name changed) came to us for the Mock Application Process, we thought he was just another MBA aspirant trying to move away from his IT engineering background. He had started his career with a big information technology company. Intelligent, articulate and very mature for his age. But there something else that was unique about his profile.

He had made a transition into another field (NGO) and his salary dropped to a fraction of what he was earning as a software developer. Obviously he wasn’t doing this just to get some non-profit experience to include in his MBA essays to impress Admission Committees. There was something that went way beyond all that.

He used the term ‘manual scavenging‘ several times during our discussions and I had no clue what he was talking about. And I’m sure many of our readers are in the same boat.

So I asked him to write a guest post for our blog to create some awareness about this cause.

In their pursuit of high-paying management consulting and investment banking jobs, most wouldn’t care to know more about this side of India. But do spend some time reading it. We’ll get back to the regular GMAT prep, MBA application stuff soon.

MANUAL SCAVENGING | The other side of India ‘Shining’

Social cause | NGO watch | SKA

Every morning, I go to eight to ten households, collect the garbage (human excreta) in a straw basket and dump it a mile away from the village. When it rains, the waste oozes through the basket over to my hair,” says Guddi Bai (38) of Nateran tehsil. M.P

The presence of dry latrine poses a challenge in completing the sanitation chain. In India, people belonging to a specific Dalit sub-caste, are forced to complete this chain.

Manual Scavenging:

Manual scavenging is considered one of the lowest, most polluting and degrading ‘occupations’, where mainly people from a Dalit sub caste clean the dry latrines with their hands and dump the human excreta/faeces at the city/village outskirts.

People working as manual scavengers earn as little as Rs.20 to 30 per dry latrine a month. Some don’t even get this meagre wage instead they are given leftover food.

Who are Manual Scavengers:

Mostly manual scavengers are from a particular Dalit sub-class. Majority of the manual scavengers are women (95% approx).

In a Sample survey conducted by Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA) 7630 manual scavengers and 34365 Individual Dry latrines were documented in 15 states. For detailed information regarding the same please visit: Sample Survey

What discrimination do manual scavengers face?

Some of the many examples of discrimination they face on a daily basis

* They are not allowed to enter houses. Even for work they enter from the backdoor.
* They are not allowed to touch anything that belongs to the upper castes.
* Food is thrown at them by the upper castes. Mostly food that is given is stale.
* Given the acute poverty of the manual scavengers their children do not get education. Some who do get enrolled in schools drop out due to severe discrimination that they face. Check out articles 1 & 2,
* Women from this community are not even hired as domestic helps by the upper castes.

Myths about manual scavenging

1. Manual scavenging occurs only in rural/backward villages – This is not true. There are documented cases of manual scavenging even in big towns/villages. For example in a sample survey in Delhi in 2008, 13 people working as manual scavengers were identified. Another example is Meerut, one of the prime towns of UP, only 60kms from the National Capital. During a Sample Survey in Meerut in 2010 392 Manual Scavengers were documented.

2. It is better to work as Manual Scavengers than do nothing, atleast they get some money rather than nothing – Most of the people working as manual scavengers get only as much as about 200 to 400 a month. The paltry amounts that they earn is not even enough for the basic needs of their survival. So basically they survive on leftover food, clothes, utensils etc. Exposed to muck for most part of there working days they develop innumerable fatal diseases. Typhoid, Paratyphoid, Food poisoning, bacillary dysentery, Diarrhoea, intestinal worms, leptospirosis etc are a few of the many diseases that manual scavengers suffer with. They can’t afford decent medication as a result they buy cheap adulterated medicines which aggravates there condition. Ultimately they borrow huge amounts of money to get treatment to save their lives which land them up in debts, impossible for them to pay back. Basically due to the work they end up having to spend much more than they earn!!!!

3. They are lazy people. Why don’t they get a better job? It is much more complicated than this. These are people who have been discriminated and subjugated for centuries into this type of heinous/undignified work and they are treated by the society as ‘Dirty and only meant for dirty work such as manual scavenging’. People don’t want to hire them for any other jobs except the one that their generations have been doing for thousands of years. Because of the tag “Manual Scavengers”, many opportunities of dignified work are closed to them. With such severe discrimination how can they ever switch their job and unfortunately they end up continuing as manual scavengers.

“If we quit, the upper caste women ridicule us. ‘Tum to panditaain ho gayi ho’ [You seem to act like a Brahmin woman], they say. Moreover, that is the way it has always been going on,” says Basanti Bai (40) of Nateran tehsil. M.P

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Note: If any of you are aware of the presence of dry latrines in your locality then please inform us at or inform the local authorities.

“For ours is a battle, not for wealth or power. It is a battle for freedom. It is a battle for the reclamation of human personality” – Dr. B.R Ambedkar

Karan is a modern day freedom fighter and one of the real heroes from India. MBA Crystal Ball salutes him for having the guts to choose an unconventional path. We hope he gets into the business school of his dreams and makes a bigger impact in whatever sphere he chooses.

PM Manmohan Singh calls it the ‘darkest blots’ in India and has urged states to eliminate this practice within 6 months. Do your bit. If you have a blog or a website, do link back to this post and share it on social media to spread the awareness.

Do you personally know of other individuals or organisations that are doing good work for any other social causes? Do share more information about them as comments to this post.

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Sameer Kamat
About Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Follow me on: Instagram | Linkedin | Youtube

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