The initiative reflects conviction and commitment to cause of social justice and a model for district planning. The Initiative has been one that people from more than 500 villages were looking for centuries.
The carrying of human excreta on the head after cleaning the dry latrines, is the abiding image of a manual scavenger. This is an obnoxious and degrading occupation, which the manual scavengers themselves despise, but due to socio-economic and cultural entrapping feel helpless and trapped into.
Despite being banned by a Parliament legislation, The Employment of Manual Scavengers & Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act 1993 and honorable Supreme Court ruling (in Public Interest Litigation 2003 Writ Petition (Civil) No. 583/2003 Safai Karamchari Andolan and 14 Other Organizations Vs. Union of India and Others) the practice is still continuing mainly because:
• Incomplete Rehabilitation focusing only on employment
• There has been little or no effort in psychologically liberating Manual Scavengers
• Lack of effort for social inclusion of Manual Scavengers
• No focus on conversion of dry toilets in rural areas
• Most importantly blatant denial of the existence of the practice in recent years :“They are not there”
Manual scavenging is done by one of the scheduled castes known as Balmiki community and worse, among them by women including minor girls. The practice is detrimental to the health, human dignity and freedom of manual scavengers and their families and has serious bearing on their life span. A source of livelihood which affects either the quality of life or the longevity is nothing but a cause of structural violence which it is noted ”may contribute to more wastage of human life than extreme forms of violence including wars and genocides”(Galtung and Hoivik, 1971). This is one of the worst known employments in human history and memory that directly hits at the dignity of individuals. The entire family of Manual Scavenger has to go through the dilemma of lifelong low self esteem, experience physical and social segregation and even untouchability.
Dry latrines affect its users by exposing them to all types of diseases and health hazards, specially caused by feaco-oral route, and much worse than those caused by open field defecation. Especially they affect women and children who are in the house for most of the times in the midst of stinking environment and flies, exacerbated further by delay in cleanliness. Excreta lie open till the time manual scavenger lady employed for cleaning the latrine comes and cleans, sometimes this period may extend to two or three days as well. Many a times delay in cleaning prevents women, who cannot go for open field defecation, from defecating causing various other health problems. They also affect people living in the vicinity of houses having dry latrines, because they are also exposed to all types of health hazards. The situation was so bad that many outsiders used to report nausea and sickness after visiting villages having large number of dry latrines. As a result of all these frequent epidemics such as of diarrhea, dysentery, jaundice, gastroenteritis, typhoid, and intestinal worms were common in district Budaun. The district has the highest Infant Mortality Rate of 110 (116 for Total Rural and 120 for Rural Females) in Uttar Pradesh. In year 2009 the district had highest cases of wild polio viruses in India. Of the 66 High Risk Blocks identified by WHO and UNICEF for Polio Eradication, 16 development Blocks were in Badaun District (there are a total of 18 development Blocks in district!).
Thus dry latrines and consequent manual scavenging constitute a problem that transgresses into the domains of caste and gender; health and occupation; human dignity and freedom; and human rights and social justice and it is impossible to attain the Millennium Development Goals 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7 without addressing the issue.