Sanitation workers are involved in various tasks across the value chain, such as cleaning toilets and spaces; collecting, segregating and disposing of different types of waste; cleaning and emptying sewers, septic tanks and drains; operating sewage treatment plants, etc. While this is one of the most important works in society, it is usually looked down upon and sanitation workers continue to remain unseen and unappreciated. Most sanitation workers lack access to decent and regular wages and employment opportunities. Usually coming from specific caste groups and select marginalized communities, they are subjected to social discrimination and stigma by society and are face systemic exclusion from basic health and education services, government schemes, social security measures, and alternative livelihood opportunities. 

One of the most inhuman and undignified forms of sanitation work prevalent in India is that of manual scavenging, wherein in absence of proper sanitation systems and mechanisation and protective gear, workers who clean insanitary dry latrines, clean or repair sewer lines and empty septic tanks, clean railway tracks, etc., come in direct contact with human faeces, without any protective gear or requisite support measures. In addition to the social stigma and isolation, they are also exposed to unimaginable health hazards. A large number of them die, especially those who are engaged in sewer line repair and cleaning, in the absence of the critical protection measures from hazards and updated technological environments that can prevent such unfortunate situations. 

Women manual scavengers: Challenges and way forward