DILAVAR IS A MANUAL SCAVENGER who cleans human excreta for a living. He lives in one of the many shops that were collectively intended to serve as a market within a gated MCD complex in Delhi, and has been cleaning sewers for over 20 years now.
It was some years ago that he decided to start working for the improvement of sewage workers in Delhi, many of whom are Dalit migrant labourers with no rights or even records. A few days ago, he appeared on air for a popular radio channel to talk about the exploitation of manual scavengers. But nothing has changed in his life.
According to his wife Soma, it's a tough job. On most days, Soma remains unsure if the sole breadwinner of her family will make it back home. This is because when her husband and those of the other women in the alley go down to clean the city’s sewage, they do it in just their underwear and sometimes a pair of worn slippers. No masks, no protective gloves, no harnesses, no goggles. They tie themselves with jute ropes When they have to enter manholes that are deeper than 5 feet.
“I can’t even stop him. He is doing this work for us, for the children. If he doesn’t shovel shit, we will have no food,” a resigned looking Soma said while fixing her grand-daughter’s hair. She has four children, two daughters who have been married off and two sons, one of whom is married.
Dilavar’s children do not understand why their father goes out to clean sewers every day. They say that they have studied so that they can get out of this life. Dilawar agrees. “That’s why I had to do it. So that they don’t have to,” he says.
Despite the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 and the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, manual scavenging continues to be a foul, inhuman and deeply casteist practice prevalent in several Indian states.
The Socio-Economic Caste Census of 2011 counted over 1.82 lakh families that had at least one member employed in manual scavenging.
News18 spent a day with Dilavar to chronicle the hardships and social discrimination manual scavengers face in India.