Dignity In Sanitation

This special edition plots a complete 360° view of the sanitation and scavenging landscape in India, its high points and the heights yet to be scaled.

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I like the religion that teaches liberty, equality and fraternity

–BR Ambedkar

It is our collective duty to ensure the tenets of liberty, equality and fraternity are upheld for every Indian citizen and do not become the privilege of a few. Dignity of life and livelihoods is a right all sections of our society should enjoy. In this effort, manual scavenging sticks out like a sore thumb. Despite it being outlawed, data shows hundreds of sanitation workers have died in India in recent years while cleaning sewers and septic tanks. Only 66% of Indian districts are free of manual scavenging.

The government has launched programmes and made budgetary allocations with consistency in its attempts to eradicate manual scavenging but to make it a success, the entire value chain of the sanitation ecosystem needs scrutiny. While the manual scavenger has to be rehabilitated with dignity, special attention needs to be given to enhancing the sanitation infrastructure in the country. And in this effort, it becomes imperative that the government finds equal stakeholders in the civil society as well as among corporates.

This special edition plots a complete 360° view of the sanitation and scavenging landscape in India, while flagging the stellar role of Reckitt in cleaning the ecosystem, reducing casualties, improving the life of workers and their families and according them due dignity.

The edition is split into five sections: Prerana (inspiration); Kaushal (essential skills); Suraksha aur Samman (safety and welfare schemes); Avishkar (new technologies and innovations); and Vikas (progress), with contributions from eminent domain experts and project staff.

If manual scavenging has to be eradicated from our society, documentation such as this will act as a ready reckoner of the achievements and the challenges.

As India moves ahead despite the challenges of ever-increasing global hegemony—the recent success of G20 and the rising voice of the global south bear testimony to it—evils such as scavenging must be eradicated for the country to truly emerge as a superpower. To this end, we need to fully recognise the problem. It is foolhardy to gloss over the caste aspect of sanitation and scavenging in India.

The Mahatma had said: “How sacred is this work of cleanliness…”. In the 21st century India, we need to carefully relook the sentence that mentions “Brahmin and Bhangi” and work meticulously to remove all caste references to cleanliness and sanitation. That will be the enduring path to end scavenging and rehabilitate scavengers with dignity.

Rajiv Tikoo is Consulting Editor, Sustainability, Outlook Group.

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