are But sewers get blocked and have to be unblocked. They overflow and have to be cleaned. They break and have to be repaired. They are often densely networked; the pipes old, the streets narrow. And so sewer management remains quite a challenge. 

Sanitation Workers are men and women who work at any part of the long sanitation chain: that begins when one flushes the toilet or disposes wastes. One of the most important jobs in society, their work, more than often manually can include but is not limited to, emptying toilet pits and septic tanks, cleaning and maintaining sewers and manholes, cleaning toilets and public places, segregating or managing different kinds of waste, and operating pumping stations and treatment plants. And yet, these sanitation workers remain mostly unseen and unappreciated.

A walk through the hidden world of sanitation workers by CS Sharada Prasad, the immersive visual narrative at display in IHC, New Delhi

Reported 7,94,390 household level insanitary latrines with waste and excreta cleared out by manual scavengers

Census of India (2011)

1,82,505 families engaged in some form of manual scavenging 

Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) 2011

Government has identified 54,130 manual scavengers from 170 districts across 18 states
in the country.

Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (2019)

Their world is hidden

Their lives invisible.
Their work is hard to imagine to be engaged with.
They need our collective conscience and voice for support.
Their dignity and rights are as important as yours.

Image: WaterAid/India/Srishti Bhardwaj

Reality of sanitation work in India

The age-old, stigmatised practice of caste system classifies and defines this important service as indecent. As a result, people, families and communities mainly belonging to the lowest rungs of the caste system are compelled to perform these tasks which are not just hazardous and stigmatising but also highly underpaid. This not only makes their identities confined to sanitation work but also pushes them to accept the burden of inheritance, stigma and exploitation.

One of the prevalent and challenging forms of sanitation work in India is that of manual scavenging, wherein they come in direct contact with human faeces in different forms, without any support systems or protective gear. In the absence of proper sanitation systems and non-availability of mechanised emptying and cleaning, this further affects the vulnerability of sanitation workers as well.

In reality, the huge and devastating vulnerabilities of sanitation workers and their communities go unseen. Is invisible. 

They are exposed to unimaginable health hazards: harmful gases, cardiovascular degeneration, musculoskeletal disorders, infections, leptospirosis, skin problems, and respiratory system problems. Many a time, death. They are not just alienated from health services but also unaccounted for. 

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Health, Safety and Dignity of Sanitation Workers

Health, Safety and Dignity of Sanitation Workers

Presenting the findings of a study that examined nine case studies of sanitation workers in low- and middle-income countries.

Sanitation Workers
Image: WaterAid/ CS Sharada Prasad

The Hidden World of Sanitation Workers in India

While there are several forms of sanitation work, one of the most challenging forms of sanitation work in India is that of manual
scavenging, wherein these sanitation workers, mostly women, do come in direct contact with human faeces in different forms, without any support systems or protective gear.

Sanitation Workers
Image: WaterAid/ CS Sharada Prasad

Sanitation Workers: Media brief

To mark World Toilet Day, the brief highlights the plight of sanitation workers as one of the most vulnerable groups in society.