23 June, 2021

Where Words Fail

India lacks the political will to put an end to manual scavenging

Bhasha Singh
Where Words Fail

When Meena decided to go to school, her mother identified one quite far from her home. Sharda was a manual scavenger and knew that her occupation could spell trouble for her daughter. Meena went to a government school and struggled to reach class VIII. But her ambition was cut short when teachers and the principal at the school made her life miserable after stumbling upon her mother’s identity.

Inevitably, Meena too ended up as a scavenger, got married and gave birth to a baby girl. But the infant was born with disabilities. An NGO persu­aded her to leave the occupation and pro­mised help. It was easier said than done. In the last six years, Meena and five other women scavengers have approached Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit and other dignitaries. She also applied for a loan to the National Safai Karmachari Finance & Development Cor­poration, but is yet to get a loan.

Her story is hardly unique. Most of India’s four-five lakh manual scaveng­ers—over 80 per cent of them women—have sim­ilar tales. But India continues to be in...

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