Three scavengers lost their lives this week when they were roped in to clean a manhole on Kagadaspura Road. The trio died of suffocation. The workers were asked to build a wall from inside for the smooth flowing of the drainage water.

 

Three deaths were enough to bring the spotlight back on to this profession. According to a 2016 report, over 59 manual scavenging deaths have been recorded in the state since 2008, but not one of them have resulted in a conviction or arrest. The report mentioned how these deaths were registered under Section 304-A, which deals with accidental deaths due to negligence, and attracted a fine or jail term of up to two years.

 

Manual scavenging deaths are booked as accidental, and the criminality of the contractors is never established and often the police turn a blind eye to such cases. The imprisonment in such cases of culpable homicide is said to be 10 years when booked under Section 304.

 

Ramon Magsaysay Award winner for 2016, Dr Bezwada Wilson, belongs to a family of manual scavengers. Having been in that environment as child, been ostracised for his Dalit status, the man grew up to fight against these social evils that plague the profession. In an interview to FirstPost in 2016, he highlighted the struggle the workers face to fit into society. He said, “It’s extremely tough for those who are giving up this work to switch over to doing something different. They have to toil three times harder to earn livelihood. The mainstream society is never ready to accept them.”

 

On laws being in place, Dr Wilson mentioned how ‘The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act 1993’ came into existence. It was followed by ‘The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013’, but due to poor implementation, violators have always gone scot free and there has been no conviction.

 

In this case also, there is clear laxity in following the laws. According to the DH report, police have listed a BWSSB engineer as the first accused, a BBMP engineer as the second, and a contractor the third. Interestingly their names do not figure in the FIR.

 

Also read: Bengaluru shame: Without safety tools, three die of suffocation inside manhole

 

What will happen in this case is also anyone’s guess. Manual scavenging is, predominantly, a Dalit/lower caste occupation. Since they belong to the lower strata of society and have the caste tag also to battle, no one in power, position or society pays them attention. Doing the most lowly of jobs, providing and keeping clean a city of millions, these hard workers have still not got their dues.

 

In life they never get recognition, due compensation, adequate safety equipment, good working benefits or better jobs. In death, their existence goes in vain as no one is ever held responsible. Society believes that the dirt they spread can be left for others clean.