Engaging WASH NGOs with manual scavenging in India: A consultation report for WaterAid-India Open Access

Barr, Jennifer (Spring 2019)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/bk128b89r?locale=en


According to Indian law, a “manual scavenger” is anyone who is employed in the cleaning, handling, or disposing of human fecal waste before it is safely decomposed (Baruah, 2014). This occurs in dry latrines, sewerage and septic tanks, open drains, railways, public restrooms, and sites of open defecation. This puts the people doing it at risk of severe health problems, such as exposure to infectious diseases; drowning in sewage; suffocation from sewage gases; and physical hazards (Human Rights Watch, 2014; Narayanan, Ashish Mittal, & Sowmyaa Bharadwaj, 2014). They also face intense social stigma. Historically, people who do this work have been predominantly from Dalit castes, who are considered to be ritually polluted by birth (Gita, 2011; Sagar, 2017; Singh, 2014). In spite of the fact it has been illegal since Indian Independence in 1947, manual scavenging persists.

This report is a consulting document prepared for WaterAid-India that explores how WaterAid as a WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) organization can meaningfully and sensitively engage with issues of manual scavenging while pursuing their overall goals of safe and equitable sanitation coverage. Combining participant observation with a manual scavenging activist group, interviews with community leaders, and a literature review, this report articulates key issues of the manual scavenging community and ways that manual scavenging community leaders would like WaterAid to engage with their issues. It also further elaborates on the challenges of addressing manual scavenging and ways in which the WASH community must continue to research and engage with this topic. The most important task is that WASH organizations must clearly define in a human rights-oriented way the line between sanitation labor that is safe, equitable, and dignified and sanitation labor that perpetuates systems of inequality.  

Table of Contents


Tables. 7

Report background and context. 1

Manual scavenging in India: a background. 3

Relevant legal protections. 7

Report methodology. 9

IRB. 11

Key issues emerging from interviews. 12

Identifying scavengers. 12

Government is apathetic and opaque. 14

Caste is integral to the issue. 15

Swachh Bharat. 16

Discrimination in schools. 17

Ministry of Railways and railway scavengers. 17

Sewer and septic tank workers. 17

Women’s issues. 18

Rehabilitation. 20

Community recommendations for WaterAid. 21

Analysis of interviews and recommendations. 24

Summary of key suggestions for actions by WaterAid. 28

Works Cited. 29

Appendix I: Interviewed organizations. 32

Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA). 32

Jan Sahas/Rashtriya Garmia Abhiyan. 32

Navsarjan Trust. 33

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