Ending the Dehumanizing Practice of Manual Scavenging in India: A Call to Action 


Manual scavenging, the harrowing practice of cleaning human and animal waste from dry latrines, continues to haunt India despite being officially prohibited by the anti-manual scavenging Act of 1993. This degrading practice not only violates fundamental rights but also poses significant health risks to those involved. Shockingly, according to the Socio-Economic Caste Census of 2011, around 1.8 lakh households are still engaged in manual scavenging for their livelihood. This article delves into the root causes of manual scavenging, the failures of state governments in eradicating it, and proposes concrete measures to put an end to this inhumane practice. 

Reasons for Manual Scavenging: 

Manual scavenging finds its roots in the deeply entrenched caste-based division of labor. Those engaged in this deplorable occupation usually belong to caste groups marginalized and discriminated against for generations. Despite legislative measures, the caste-based discrimination perpetuates the cycle of manual scavenging. 

Furthermore, the ineffective implementation of laws has allowed manual scavenging to persist. While laws exist to prohibit and penalize this practice, convictions are rare, and offenders often escape with negotiated compensations, perpetuating a culture of impunity. 

High unemployment rates also contribute to the persistence of manual scavenging. With limited job opportunities, many individuals, particularly from marginalized

communities, are forced to resort to menial and hazardous work like manual scavenging to sustain their livelihood. 

Moreover, the lack of waterborne toilets exacerbates the problem. Dry latrines, predominant in both urban and rural areas, force individuals to engage in manual scavenging due to the absence of proper sanitation facilities. The failure to adopt strategies for converting dry toilets perpetuates this vicious cycle. 

Failures of State Governments: 

The failure of state governments to eradicate manual scavenging is glaring. Despite legislative measures and constitutional provisions prohibiting untouchability and compelling anyone to practice manual scavenging, the practice continues unabated. The lack of political will and enforcement mechanisms has allowed this violation of human dignity to persist. 

Tragically, manual scavenging-related deaths continue to occur, highlighting the dire consequences of state inaction. Reports of fatalities in underground manholes, even in the era of Swachh Bharat, underscore the urgency of addressing this issue. 

Way Forward: 

To eradicate manual scavenging, concerted efforts from all stakeholders are imperative. Firstly, community involvement is crucial. Engaging affected communities and seeking their input in devising solutions will ensure the effectiveness and sustainability of interventions. 

Creating awareness about the legal ramifications of manual scavenging and providing information on rights and protections to sanitation workers are vital steps. Empowering individuals with knowledge will enable them to assert their rights and resist exploitative practices. 

Rehabilitation and reintegration programs are essential for transitioning manual scavengers into alternative livelihoods. This entails creating employment opportunities, offering skill development programs, and promoting social inclusion to break the cycle of poverty and discrimination. 

Enforcement of laws prohibiting manual scavenging must be stringent. State authorities must uphold the rule of law and hold offenders accountable for their actions. Zero tolerance for violations is essential to deter future instances of manual scavenging. 

Individual responsibility is paramount in ending manual scavenging. Proper waste disposal practices, seeking professional sanitation services, and advocating for the

rights of sanitation workers are crucial steps every citizen can take to contribute to this cause. 

Education plays a pivotal role in ending intergenerational cycles of manual scavenging. Ensuring access to education and implementing schemes to support children from scavenger families in completing their studies will break the cycle of poverty and exploitation. 


Manual scavenging is not just a sanitation issue; it is a grave violation of human rights and dignity. Ending this practice requires collective action, political will, and social transformation. By addressing the root causes, enforcing laws, and empowering affected communities, we can create a society where every individual lives with dignity and equality. Let us join hands to eradicate manual scavenging and build a more inclusive and just India for all.