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Can we  put a price on these lives?

According to the Safai Karamchari Andolan—an organisation founded by Magsaysay awardee Bezwada Wilson to eradicate manual scavenging—in Telangana, the families of at least 22 persons who died while en

Published: 21st March 2017 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 20th March 2017 09:54 PM   |  A+A-

According to the Safai Karamchari Andolan—an organisation founded by Magsaysay awardee Bezwada Wilson to eradicate manual scavenging—in Telangana, the families of at least 22 persons who died while engaged in the task have not yet received compensation as mandated by the Supreme Court. The New Indian Express independently confirmed that this was indeed the case according to the kin of 12 of the deceased.

The inconsistent, ad hoc settlements indicated either an ignorance of the law or a lack of respect for the death of person under inhumane circumstances, or possibly both.


Manual scavenging involves physical handling of human waste by persons either as night soil workers, sanitation staff who enter manholes, contract or daily wage workers who clean septic tanks among other variants. It is a job disproportionately performed by Dalits.

Caste, poverty and occupation become a vicious cycle making it difficult for younger generations to avoid being trapped in it. The occupation is accompanied by adverse health effects as well as social stigma. And yet, it continues unabated.


While India has strict laws banning such activities, for a variety of reasons— lack of proper sewerage systems, lack of equipment to clean sewerages effectively—the blatant neglect of the state’s responsibility towards those who have died engaged in the task is especially galling. If the state cannot stop the practice, it should ensure that they are undertaken with requisite safety and if the worst happens, the state should follow through on the SC’s orders.

If not, it signifies the state’s participation in the exploitation of Dalits. It shows that the lives of the poor are worth little to the state, when the kin of deceased are forced to beg for their rights. Telangana is not the only offender in this regard but as the youngest Indian state born of a movement to remedy historic injustices, it would do well to set an example and do what’s right and fair.

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