Tatsat Chronicle Magazine

Death Of The Invisible

Every few months, deaths of sanitation workers while cleaning sewers and septic tanks make the headlines. But after customary condemnation of this inhuman practice for a few days, they become invisible until the next death. And the cycle repeats. Isn’t it essential to call time on this hazardous profession that is rooted in casteism?
August 1, 2022
sanitation workers

Even as India marks 75 years of independence with Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, the Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment, Virendra Kumar, informed Parliament on July 18 that 347 people deaths during hazardous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks in the past five years. In a sad irony, last year, while launching Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, Prime Minister Narendra Modi dedicated it to the India people.

For sanitation workers, it seems, that liberation from one of the most demeaning and dangerous jobs is still beyond reach despite the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (MS Act, 2013), which disbanded manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks almost a decade ago. According to data of state-wise deaths of sanitation workers since 2017 tabled in Parliament, the highest number of deaths took place in Uttar Pradesh (51) followed by Tamil Nadu (48), Delhi (42), Haryana (38), Maharashtra(34) and Gujarat (28).

But activists, who have been fighting for the rights of sanitation workers, claim that the government data is inaccurate and does not capture the real toll. For example, for 2022, the government data shows only four such deaths in UP, but news reports from April and May indicate that six sanitation workers died in Noida alone. Similarly, in March alone, 14 sanitation workers died in four states.

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Jasvinder Sidhu

Jasvinder Sidhu is a freelance investigative journalist who worked for newspapers like The Greater Kashmir, Amar Ujala and The Hindustan Times