A Ladder To Climb Out Of The Pit

Harpic World Toilet College works for improvement across the entire sanitation value chain to enable workers to build a life of safety, dignity and better remuneration

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The job of a sanitation worker is one of the most hazardous and dirtiest in the world—and the least paid. An Indian sanitation worker is mostly a Dalit, the lowest in the caste hierarchy.  It means sanitation workers comprise one of the most disadvantaged segments of a societal matrix, and require innovative solutions to live a quality life with dignity.

This is where Reckitt comes in. A unique initiative called the Harpic World Toilet College (HWTC) project has been silently working to change the lives of sanitation workers and their families, challenging an age-old caste system and the barriers it imposes on Dalits by breaking taboos.

Striving for behavioural change and improvement across the entire sanitation value chain, the HWTC movement began in India in 2016. It seeks to build for sanitation workers the safety, dignity and future they deserve.

The World Toilet Organization established the HWTC programme with the aim to upskill sanitation workers and improve their livelihoods by training them in technical and safety skills, soft skills, healthcare and water management. Usually held over five days, the course certifies enrolled candidates as professionals and places them into formal employment at establishments like hotels and hospitals. Aside from this important upskilling component, the programme provides various services. For instance, it informs them of their rights under the prohibition of manual scavenging laws. It arranges for free health check-ups, safety kits, information about safe procedures and personal protection. Candidates interested in entrepreneurship are clubbed into self-help groups for further help.

Driven by the mission to eliminate the inhuman practice of manual scavenging and improve the status of sanitation workers by giving them a dignified living, the programme, now entering its sixth phase, is veering towards integrating sanitation vehicles for schools, mechanised sewer cleaning and National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) accredited training pedagogy to transform the lives of 100,000 sanitation workers.

In association with the Singapore-based World Toilet Organization and Jagran Pehel, Reckitt has laid the foundation of the first World Toilet College in India, in association with the Dettol Banega Swachh India programme. Jagran Pehel is a division of Shri Puranchandra Gupta Smarak Trust, promoted by Jagran Prakashan Limited.

Since the launch of the first Harpic World Toilet College in Aurangabad in 2018, 14 HWTCs (six HWTCs have ISO 9001-2015 certification) have trained a total of 27,700 sanitation workers across 14 states. The process includes every step from mobilisation and registration to classroom and practical trainings and ends with a placement.


The HWTC focuses on those at the bottom of the pyramid in the society and envisions the provision of dignified livelihoods to sanitation workers throughout India by improving the quality of their work, eliminating the inhumane nature of the work of manual scavengers and the hazards that they are exposed to, and improve their socio-economic status by providing them a life of dignity.

For instance, since its inception, the HWTC in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, has been working extensively in this area. It has successfully trained over 5,000 sanitation workers and helped secure sustainable employment opportunities for all of its candidates looking for jobs post training. This includes jobs in reputed and recognised national and local organisations.


The project has done this by engaging with a diverse group of stakeholders across different areas of the project, such as community mobilisation, counselling, skill development, placement, knowledge creation and dissemination.

The HWTC focuses on those at the bottom of the pyramid in the society and envisions the provision of dignified livelihoods to sanitation workers

The HWTC programme strives to reach out to the underprivileged sections of society with an aim to nurture their skills and to enable them to live a life of dignity.

According to the social return on investment evaluation ’20, its alumni reported a 98% increase in dignity, attributing this to an increase in their self-confidence and a better position of respect and acceptance in their communities. Around 75% of the respondents said that they experienced a reduction in the stigma they faced earlier. While 35.7% said that they realised that the safety at their workplaces had increased, 51.2% said that their spending on health had reduced, 22.2% mentioned decline in health issues and 83.3% of the participants said that their skill-sets had increased.

Changing Lives

The training also took care of enhancing the soft skills of the candidates, with trainees reporting proper workplace behaviour, cleanliness, punctuality and communication skills, time management, self-awareness and discipline besides regularity in their working and being well-dressed.

Take, for instance, the story of 28-year-old Archana Shelke who comes from a family of manual scavengers, with the work being passed down to her generation. She wanted to work to bring more income to her family, however, there was a lot of resistance from her elders, who did not approve of a woman earning for the family.

Before joining the programme, Shelke worked at a residential society and earned a mere Rs 2,500 a month. Shelke joined the HWTC for training after its community mobiliser reached out to her to show the benefits and value that she could gain from joining HWTC.

After completing the training, she was placed as a housekeeper at the Sheth Nandalal Dhoot Hospital where she now earns a salary of Rs 9,200 plus benefits.


Shelke, who did not step out of her community earlier, now sees the world of opportunities that are available to her. She now understands the importance of financial stability, safety and hygiene. She wants her children to work for the government and she is saving money for their education.

“I used to feel embarrassed because of my previous work. Now the feeling of embarrassment has disappeared. I am proud of the work I am doing,” she says.

The story of 36-year-old Vijay Tak is not very different either. Tak comes from a family of sanitation workers going back three generations.

His father was the first person in Aurangabad city who used a suction and jetting machine in sanitation work. For 15 years, Tak would stand on the roadside looking for manual scavenging work. That was before he was approached by a HWTC mobiliser who encouraged him to go through the training.

Tak was eager to join as the programme did not have any education or qualification criteria for enrolment. While at the programme, he learned lots of things—the types of gases, septic tanks and drainage chambers release, how to safely use equipment and sanitary supplies, etc.

Employers have an overwhelmingly positive opinion of the programme and candidates, rating them higher than non-HWTC employees

After the training, he started working at Skybiotic Lifescience as a housekeeping operator, earning Rs. 9,500 per month, which is nearly Rs. 6,000 more than his previous earning. His job has allowed him to save for the future and work to fulfil his children’s dreams. His son wants to become a defence officer, and his daughter wants to study at the JJ School of Arts to become an artist. He also has plans for himself: he wants to start his own business in the future, which will support others.

His overall confidence has also improved. “I want to improve the lives of at least 10 manual scavengers and their families with my business,” he says. “I do not want my family members to pursue this work,” he adds emphatically.

Both Sides of the Table

Manual scavengers and employers say that they have gained from the HWTC programme. Employers have an overwhelmingly positive opinion of the programme and its candidates, rating them higher than non-HWTC employees. Skilled staff means an improved quality of work.  Retention scores inside their organisations have also gone up. They say that employees meet quality standards in their work as they have the necessary skills and knowledge to follow health and safety measures while performing their jobs.

The HWTC programme has been pathbreaking in its vision, approach and model. This initiative by Reckitt has moved away from the standard approaches of community mobilisation. It focuses on the problem at hand: Breaking intergenerational poverty in the community of sanitation workers and giving them the power to lead a dignified life.


(The author is a senior journalist)

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