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Still not human enough? How the Indian govt is failing its fight against manual scavenging

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By Harshmeet Singh

When they said no job is too small or derogatory to perform, they certainly left out the practice of manual scavenging. Almost exclusively performed by people belonging to the Dalit community, scavenging is the practice of cleaning human excreta from dry latrines (without flush system) manually.

Every day, the manual scavengers are required to reach out to all the dry latrines in their area, use their bare hands to pick up the human excreta, fill it in a broad hand held bane basket, place it on their head and take it to the a nearby bin to dispose it off. If you are searching for an example of lower caste abuse in this ‘modern Indian society’, there can’t be a better example than manual scavenging.

Biggest Offender?

One of the biggest employers of manual scavengers in India is our very own Indian Railways. The outdated toilet systems in our trains drop all the human excreta on to the tracks which are later cleaned by the scavengers employed by the Railways. Railways operate more than 172,000 dry toilets as a part of over 43,000 passenger coaches. Still in denial about violating the law against manual scavenging, Indian Railways has been pulled up by the courts multiple times.

The ‘untouchables’

The practice of manual scavenging is passed on as a ‘hereditary’ profession in a number of Indian villages. The task is mostly performed by females since men do not want to get their hands ‘dirty’. The scavengers are considered as ‘untouchables’ in the village, with people from ‘higher caste’ keeping a safe distance from them. They are usually asked to enter the home from the rear gate, collect the human excreta and leave without touching a thing or speaking a word.

Rachna, who cleans more than 25 dry toilets a day in the Mainpuri district of Uttar Pradesh says, “Most of them do not pay me anything. They just keep their leftover food outside their home for me to pick up. On some days, even that food gets eaten by the stray dogs. When I ask for money, they threaten me that they will boycott me from the village or restrict my buffaloes from grazing on their land. What can I do? I do not like touching dirty things but I have no option but to go their homes every day.”

A number of villages in different parts of the country have earmarked people from certain castes to carry out the work of manual scavenging. Prabha Devi, from Babatpur area, near Varanasi in UP, cries when she says “I belong to the Musahar community. Cleaning dry latrines is our job. Even if I do not want to do this, I can’t leave it. Whenever any toilet in the village needs cleaning, people call me up to do it. My body stinks badly every day. I am even scared to touch the idols of God with my hands. I don’t remember the last time when I prayed.”

According to the 2011 census, over 750,000 families in India are involved in manual scavenging. Most estimates peg the number of manual scavengers in India at over 1.3 million. This number is close to the entire population of cities such as Nashik, Agra, Faridabad and Meerut.

What does the Law say?

The Supreme Court, in March 2014, called manual scavenging “a practice that violates international human rights law”. The SC further directed the government to come up with a permanent solution and take measures for rehabilitation of the people involved in this menial practice. In 2011, the Delhi High Court directed the Indian Railways to expedite the process of setting up bio-toilets in railway coaches to eliminate manual scavenging. Unsurprisingly, the High Court’s direction fell to deaf ears.

In the Union budget of 2011-12, the Government allotted a sum of Rs 100 crore in order to execute ‘Self Employment Scheme of Liberation and Rehabilitation of Scavengers’. After much applause, the grant was reduced to Rs 35 crore. The same thing happened in 2012-13 when the budget grant of Rs 98 crore was cut down to Rs 20 crore.

In September 2013, the Parliament passed ‘The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013’. Though all the Government departments were soon issued the notifications regarding the same, it is not difficult to conclude that this legislation had no impact on the condition of manual scavengers in the country.

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British Columbia Looking For Skilled Indian to Join Tech Related Jobs

"India would be a very crucial market for us. There are many international immigrants including Indians in Vancouver".

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British Columbia, the Canadian province that is a leader in technology and has one of the fastest growing tech ecosystems in the world
British Columbian Flag.Wikimedia commons

British Columbia, the Canadian province that is a leader in technology and has one of the fastest growing tech ecosystems in the world, is looking at a shortfall of 30,000 skilled individuals to fill tech-related jobs, with India as an important catchment area for recruiting immigrant talent.

“India, the Philippines and Nigeria are the countries we are looking for tapping talent in the Information Technology (IT) sector,” says Patrick Mackenzie, CEO of the Immigrant Employment Council (IEC) of British Columbia, the southwestern province in Canada which accounts for more than 10,000 companies and approximately $29 billion (Canadian dollars) in revenue.

Speaking to IANS on the sidelines of the third annual BCTECH Summit here, Mackenzie said there are huge openings for immigrants as information system analysts, consultants, software engineers and designers and computer system managers.

“The current supply cannot meet the industry’s growing demands for tech talent. By 2021, there will be an anticipated shortfall of over 30,000 skilled individuals to fill tech-related jobs in the province,” he noted.

Unless immediate action was taken by the provincial and federal governments, tech employers, the settlement and integration sector and other key shareholders, this employment gap will severely limit the potential growth of the industry, Mackenzie added.

The “2016 Tech Talent BC Report” identifies three talent pools — new entrants or recent graduates, immigrants and other local supply to include career transitioners and people from under-represented groups.

The focus of the report was immigrants and the country needs to source 8,500 more immigrants than are currently projected to arrive in BC by 2021 to meet the growing tech sector demand.

British Columbia’s Premier John Horgan, in his remarks at the plenary session on Wednesday, put the figure at 9,600 which the province needs to bring people from across the world into the tech sector.

British Columbia, the Canadian province that is a leader in technology and has one of the fastest growing tech ecosystems in the world
British Columbia is willing to hire numerous skilled personnel for their technical industry. Pexels

The tech and innovation sector in BC has grown rapidly over the past 10 years, transforming its economy in many ways that people could not have imagined. It is evident in the increase of technology jobs from 66,000 in 2002 to more than one lakh in 2016.

Bruce Ralston, Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology, British Columbia, said the province is home to globally-recognised talent, trained at international renowned post-secondary institutions and some of the most successful and innovative companies in the industry.

Ralston said the government of British Columbia actively supported the tech sector to build the good, highly-skilled jobs of tomorrow and to keep their traditional sectors stay efficient, sustainable and globally competitive.

“However, we know the government cannot grow the tech sector alone, and we need strong partnerships –within the private sector, with other levels of government, with educators, and between our traditional industries and innovative tech companies- to continue to develop the emerging economy,” he added.

Mackenzie says even this year, despite the high number of openings, actually over 3,600 jobs will get unfilled till 2020-21 if we don’t find ways to fill them. “We need 8,500 immigrants with skills,” he added.

Asked about the emphasis the IEC would have on India as a pool for scouting talent, he said: “India is a leader in the tech sector and the Council has a very clear picture how to rope in talent and to tell the immigrants what they can look for and do in Canada”.

“India would be a very crucial market for us. There are many international immigrants including Indians in Vancouver”.

It is not just tech jobs and there are openings everywhere, the IEC CEO stressed.

One of the key findings of the IEC report on “Employer Challenges in Attracting and Integrating Immigrant Talent into BC’s Tech Sector” was that most employers had used at least one of the programmes to source international talent and had mixed reviews.

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The other was the alignment between immigrant talent and tech employer needs as they relate to soft skills (language) and hard skills (technical).

With a few exceptions, most employers felt that immigrants’ soft skills were in short supply and, in particular, their interpersonal communication styles often do not align with Canadian employers’ expectations.

The final theme of the report involved settlement and integration services and support for newcomers and their families.

British Columbia is home to international tech giants like Microsoft, Google and others.