Delhi: Hundreds protest sewer deaths, want governments to act

Protesters were demanding that the practice of workers entering underground conduits to unclog drains and remove waste with bare hands be stopped.

delhi Updated: Sep 26, 2018 03:26 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
sewer cleaner,manual scavenger,safai karamchari
About 1,800 sewer cleaners have asphyxiated to death in the last decade, says the Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA), a group that is campaigning to eliminate the practice.(Sushil Kumar/HT Photo)

It has been a tough journey for Pushpa Devi, after her husband died in 2005 while cleaning a sewer in Haryana’s Sonipat.

Pushpa, a mother of four, has ever since had a tough time making ends meet.

On Tuesday, Pushpa, along with hundreds of other manual scavengers and their families, gathered at Parliament Street to voice dissent against sewer deaths and call for a ban on manual scavenging.

“I had no one to support me after my husband’s death. I had to take up a job in a private firm to support my family. I don’t want anyone else to suffer like me. I tell everyone in my area to stop cleaning sewers manually,” said Pushpa, who has been actively working with the Safai Karamchari Andolan, ever since her husband’s death.

Tuesday’s ‘Stop Killing Us’ protest, organised by the Safai Karamchari Andolan, saw hundreds of manual scavengers, their families and civil society members, raise their voice against sewer deaths and demand action from the Central government to stop manual scavenging.

Bezwada Wilson, convenor of Safai Karamchari Andolan, said, “As many as 1,790 people have died in the country (ever since the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavenger and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, came into effect) while cleaning sewers. Who is responsible for these deaths? We all deserve to live with dignity and self-respect.”

Armed with placards that read ‘Govt talks bullet trains, no machine to clean the drains’, ‘Stop Killing Us’, ‘Ban manual scavenging’, the protesters said that it is unfortunate that the Manual Scavenging Act is not enforced and people were still dying inside sewers.

Family members of workers who died at the DLF Capital Greens at Moti Nagar and those of Anil, who died last week in Dabri while cleaning a sewer, were also present at the protest.

D Raja, Rajya Sabha MP and national secretary of Community Party of India, CPI (M) leader Brinda Karat, author and activist Arundhati Roy, social Activist Swami Agnivesh and
Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav, among others, joined the protest.

Addressing the gathering, members of Opposition parties hit out at the Union government for doing little to stop manual scavenging. “They talk about sabka saath, sabka vikas. This should also include the safai karamcharis. There is a law which prohibits manual scavenging. But it is not implemented effectively. Who is responsible for these deaths?” said Raja.

First Published: Sep 25, 2018 19:53 IST