Our recent work in India

2 min read
sanitation workers smiling during a break together
Image: Water/CS Sharada Prasad_Safai Karmachari Kavalu Samiti

Thanks to the support of Who Gives A Crap, our vital work with sanitation workers in India continues, strengthening the rule of law to advance the rights and freedoms of manual scavengers.

Manual scavenging is an age-old inhuman sanitation work tradition in India, mostly associated with caste and social hierarchies. Manual scavengers, mostly women from most marginalised sections of the society, empty and collect human waste from insanitary dry latrines and carry it on their head to the disposal area on a daily basis. Despite its prohibition through legislative acts and judicial interventions since 1993, the practice continues. Women manual scavengers are subjected to social discrimination and stigma by society and face systemic exclusion from basic health and education services, government schemes, social security measures, and alternative livelihood opportunities.

The Socio-Economic Caste Census of India 2011 had identified 182,000 manual scavengers across the country. In 2018, an inter-ministerial task force found that there are over 53,000 people practising manual scavenging, in just 121 out of over 600 districts in the country. Deaths of people engaged in manual scavenging/ sanitation workers continue unabated – in sewers and while cleaning septic tanks. 

In this context WaterAid India:

  • Implemented 36 self-help groups, reaching 1,139 women engaged in manual scavenging, formed across 36 urban/peri-urban settlements in project locations in four states. 36 community resource persons were also identified and trained across project locations, to provide support to self-help groups and undertake field-level initiatives.
  • Posters and flyers on the rights and freedoms of manual scavengers were published and distributed among communities and over 1,000 pamphlets on COVID-19 prevention measures were distributed across community members.
  • Food support was provided to 1,800 people from the manual scavenging communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Community kitchens were also organised, where 823 persons from the manual scavenging community were supported
  • Three short films were prepared, highlighting various aspects of challenges faced by manual scavengers to raise awareness 
  • A number of media advocacy interventions were undertaken to highlight the key issues for policymakers and the public through opinion pieces in newspapers, a radio programme and a social media campaign. 
  • A baseline study was undertaken in 2018 across 36 project locations in four states to collect reliable data, which highlighted the prevalence of dry latrines and the practice of manual scavenging, and various challenges faced by the communities engaged in this work.