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Manual scavenging

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Title: Manual scavenging  
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Subject: Water supply and sanitation in India, Social issues in India, Illegal housing in India, Poverty in India, Night soil
Collection: Sewerage, Toilets, Water Supply and Sanitation in India
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Manual scavenging

Manual scavenging refers to the removal of human waste/excreta (night soil) from unsanitary, "dry" toilets, “dry toilets”, i.e., toilets without the modern flush system. Manual scavenging involves the removal of human excreta using brooms and tin plates. The excreta are piled into baskets which scavengers carry on their heads to locations sometimes several kilometers from the latrines.[1] Manual scavenging is said to have started in 1214 in Europe when the first public toilets appeared.[2] The water closet was invented by John Harrington in 1596. In 1870, S.S. Helior invented the flush type toilet, and it became common in the Western world.


  • India 1
    • History 1.1
    • Current prevalence 1.2
    • Initiatives to Eradicate Manual Scavenging 1.3
      • Legislation 1.3.1
    • Activism 1.4
  • See also 2
  • References 3
  • Additional reading 4


There is evidence of existence of wet toilets in the civilisations of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. These cities had toilets, which were connected to underground drainage system lined with burnt clay bricks.[3] and in later stage manual scavenging became a caste-based occupation and the vast majority of workers involved are women.[4]


The practice of manual scavenging in India dates back to ancient time. According to contents of sacred scriptures and other literature, scavenging by some specific caste of India exist since the beginning of civilization.[5] One of the fifteen duties of slaves enumerated in Naradiya Samhita was of manual scavenging. This continues during the Buddhist and Mauraya period also.[6] In India, Jahangir built a public toilet at Alwar, 120 km away from Delhi for 100 families in 1556 AD.[7] Not much documentary evidence exists about its maintenance. Scholars have suggested that the Mughal women with purdah required enclosed toilets that needed to be scavenged.[8] It is pointed out that the bhangis share some of the clan names with Rajputs, and propose that the bhangis are descendants of those captured in wars.There are many legends about the origin of

  • "Manual scavenging: Court summons Principal Secretaries". The Hindu. 14 September 2004.
  • "India's manual scavengers: How to abolish a dirty, low-status job." The Economist. 10 July 2008.
  • "UN rights chief welcomes movement to eradicate manual scavenging in India." UN News Centre. 31 January 2013.
  • Maggie Black, Ben Fawcett. (2012). The Last Taboo: Opening the Door on the Global Sanitation Crisis. Routledge. ISBN 1136532919.
  • Bhasha Singh (2014). Unseen: The Truth about India's Manual Scavengers. Penguin India. ISBN 0143420380.
  • B. N. Srivastava (editor). (1997). Manual Scavenging in India: A Disgrace to the Country. Concept Publishing Company. ISBN 8170226392.

Additional reading

  1. ^ "Human rights and manual scavenging" (PDF). Know Your Rights Series. National Human Rights Commission. Retrieved September 16, 2013. 
  2. ^ Dr. Bindeswar Pathak, History of Toilets, International Symposium on Public Toilets, Hong Kong, May 25–27, 1995
  3. ^ "Primary History Indus Valley: Home Life". Retrieved September 16, 2013. 
  5. ^ Road to Freedom: A Sociological Study on the Abolition of Scavenging in India, Bindeshwar Pathak, Motilal Banarsidass Publisher, 1999. p. 37
  6. ^ Road to Freedom: A Sociological Study on the Abolition of Scavenging in India, Bindeshwar Pathak, Motilal Banarsidass Publisher, 1999. p. 38
  7. ^ Bindeshwar Pathak, Toilet History The Vacuum - Issue 18
  8. ^ Road to Freedom: A Sociological Study on the Abolition of Scavenging in India, Bindeshwar Pathak, Motilal Banarsidass Publishe, 1999. p. 38
  9. ^ The Bhangi: A Sweeper Caste, Its Socio-economic Portraits : with Special Reference to Jodhpur City, Shyamlal, Popular Prakashan, 1992 p. 21
  10. ^ Themes in Indian History,Dr. Raghunath Rai, FK Publications, 2010, p. 246
  11. ^ Scavenging, Volume 17, Bombay (India : State), Government Central Press, 1884, p. 676-679
  12. ^ a b c d "Manual scavengers become fashion models." BBC. 4 July 2008.
  13. ^ "Manual Scavengers: Indian Railways in denial". OneWorld South Asia. 25 February 2013.
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Delhi first state to ban manual scavenging." Hindustan Times. 27 February 2013.
  17. ^ Bhasin, Agrima (October 5, 2012). "Washing off this stain will need more". Chennai, India: The Hindu. Retrieved September 16, 2013. 
  18. ^ "National workshop on decent work for sanitation workers and workers in manual scavenging". Retrieved September 16, 2013. 
  19. ^ Bhasin, Agrima (3 October 2012). "Washing off this stain will need more". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 
  20. ^ The Employment Of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993. Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, Govt. of India.
  21. ^ "Get serious". The Hindu (Chennai, India). September 13, 2013. Retrieved September 16, 2013. 
  22. ^ "Legislature on Eradication of Manual Scavenging".  
  23. ^ "The 'untouchable' Indians with an unenviable job". The Independent (London). 15 October 2010. 


See also

In India in 1970s, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak introduced his "Sulabh" concept for building and managing public toilets in India, which has introduced hygienic and well-managed public toilet system. Activist Bezwada Wilson founded a group in 1994, Safai Karmachari Andolan, to campaign for the demolition of then newly illegal 'dry latrines' and the abolition of manual scavenging. Despite the efforts of Wilson and other activists, the practice persists two decades later.[23] In July 2008 "MissionSanitation" was a fashion show held by the United Nations as part of its International Year of Sanitation. On the runway were 36 previous workers, called scavengers, and top models to help bring awareness of the issue of manual scavenging. It is the UN's goal to by the year 2015 reduce the current rate of inadequate access to sanitary services by 50%.[12]


Eliminate Insanitary latrines.
Prohibit Employment as Manual Scavengers
Hazardous manual cleaning of sewer and septic tanks.
Survey Manual Scavengers and their rehabilitation
[22]The broad objectives of the act are to

Further, the hearing on 27 March 2014 was held on Manual Scavenging of writ petition number 583 of 2003, and supreme Court has issued final orders and case is disposed of with various directions to the Government.

Government has passed the new legislation in September 2013 and issued Government notification for the same. In December,2013 Government has also formulated Rules-2013 called as "The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Rules 2013" or "M.S. Rules 2013". The details about Act and Rules are available on the website of Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, GOI.

The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 or M.S. Act 2013

The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 punishes the employment of scavengers or the construction of dry (non-flush) latrines with imprisonment for up to one year and/or a fine of Rs 2,000.[20] No convictions were obtained under the law during the 20 years it was in force.[21]

The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 After six states passed resolutions requesting the Central Government to frame a law, The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993,drafted by the Ministry of Urban Development under the Narasimha Rao government,[19] was passed by Parliament in 1993.

In the late 1950s, freedom fighter G. S. Lakshman Iyer banned manual scavenging when he was the chairman of Gobichettipalayam Municipality, which became the first local body to ban it officially.[14][15] Sanitation is a State subject as per entry 6 of the Constitution. Under this, in February 2013 Delhi announced that they are banning manual scavenging, making them the first state in India to do so. District magistrates are responsible for ensuring that there are no manual scavengers working in their district. Within 3 years time municipalities, railways and cantonments must make sufficient sanitary latrines available.[16] The government of the state of Maharashtra has planned to abolish the menace of manual scavenging completely from the state soon.But by using Article 252 of the constitution which empowers Parliament to legislate for two or more States by consent and adoption of such legislation by any other State, the Government of India has enacted various laws .[17] The continuance of such discriminatory practice is violation of ILO’s Convention 111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation)[18]


Initiatives to Eradicate Manual Scavenging

According to the official statistics, there are about 340,000 people who work as manual scavengers in India.[12] Manual scavenging is done with basic tools like thin boards and either buckets or baskets lined with sacking and carried on the head. Due to the nature of the job, many of the workers have related health problems.[12]

Manual scavenging still survives in parts of India without proper sewage systems. It is thought to be most prevalent in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan.[12] Some municipalities in India still run public dry-toilets.The biggest violator of this law in India is the Indian Railways which has toilets dropping all the excreta from trains on the tracks and they employ scavengers to clean it manually.[13]

Current prevalence


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