WaterAid feature runner-up in Guardian competition

Journalist Susie Sell was runner-up in the Guardian International Development Journalism Competition for her feature on manual scavenging.


26 Nov 2013

Susie was one of 12 people shortlisted from more than 500 journalists and aspiring journalists who entered the competition. She then travelled to India with WaterAid to report on sanitation work for the final in the competition.

Manual scavenging is the job of physically removing human excrement from dry latrines. This discriminatory and demeaning practice is carried out by the lowest rung of the Dalit caste. They will often have inherited their 'scavenging rights' through birth or marriage.

Despite it being outlawed by the Indian Parliament in 1993, more than 300,000 people continue to scrape an existence in this way and no one has ever been prosecuted for employing manual scavengers.

A bill passed in September has tried to address the shortfalls in the original law, naming the Government as responsible for converting dry latrines and rehabilitating manual scavengers.

Uma, 65, (pictured) started manual scavenging when she was married off at the age of 11. She has since tried to break free and get other work, using a government loan to set up a business selling snacks. However, she could not shake off the stigma associated with manual scavenging. She was seen as 'untouchable' and so no one would buy food from her, so she had to return to manual scavenging.

Despite this, she remains optimistic that one day, she will be able to find alternative employment.

Susie said: "My most memorable moment was hearing Uma Devi say: 'I am hopeful that one day this will end.' Uma had been forced into manual scavenging for more than 50 years but at the age of 65, and with several failed attempts behind her, she was still determined to break free from a life of oppression."

Read Susie Sell's feature and supporting case studies in the Guardian.