The various activities of Thamate can be broadly classified under following themes:-
- Eradication of Manual Scavenging Practice including legal interventions.
- Organizing the community for their rights.
- Improving Education among families of Safaikarmacharis/Manual Scavengers.
- Improving Health status of families of Safaikarmacharis/Manual Scavengers.
Towards these goals, Thamate has been employing following strategies: –
- Mobilization and formation of Community Based Monitoring Groups (CBMG) and Leadership building among SK/MS;
- Legal Interventions like registration of FIRs under criminal provisions of relevant Acts after conducting Fact Findings whenever incidents of manual scavenging come to light;
- Setting up Education Centres (called Bheemshalas) in residential areas of SK/MS with the objective of providing an conducive educational environment and reducing school drop-out so that children STOP engaging in their parent’s unclean occupation;
- Conducting pre-coaching classes and practice exams for assisting students to secure admissions into government residential schools and colleges;
- Establishing Youth Resource Centres (YRC) for strengthening life skills of youths and motivating them for alternative employment;
- Identification of potential youths for alternative employment and training;
- Networking/Coordinating the collective advocacy process at the State and National Level for strengthening policies and legislation for eradication of manual scavenging and overall development of the community.
Although The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (PEMSRA 2013) expressly prohibits employment of persons for “manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of, or otherwise handling in any manner, human excreta in an insanitary latrine or in an open drain or pit into which the human excreta from the insanitary latrines is disposed of, or on a railway track” and directs authorities to demolish insanitary latrines or convert them into sanitary (with flush) latrines, authorities have not taken any action to implement these directives. Insanitary latrines still exit and are being used necessitating the employment of people as manual scavengers.
For eradication of this inhuman practice, Thamate is acting at three levels: preventive, rehabilitative and afirmative. Firstly, since those who work as manual scavengers are often those employed as safaikarmacharis by various Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) and Gram Panchayats (GPs), Thamate is actively organizing safaikarmacharis by formation of Community-based Monitoring Groups (CBMG). The objective of formation of these CBMGs is to build capacity among the workers themselves to be able to demand various entitlements related to labour, health, housing drinking water etc. Where Thamate’s approach differs from other such efforts is that instead of organizing workers through supervisors or maestris, Thamate seeks to promote leadership among SK/MS themselves. The CBMGs identify critical work place issues faced by members, address the day-to-day problems of the members by holding meetings with officials of Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) independently without need for top-down management and they link up at the district and state level SK/MS organizations to participate in the larger advocacy efforts. The CBMGs federate under the banner of Safaikarmachari Kavulu Samithi (SKSS), a state-level collective of safaikarmachari unions (sanghas). The final goal is to work towards economic and social security of the community so that there is no compulsion to work as manual scavengers.
Secondly, SKKS has been tracking and addressing the phenomenon of deaths of persons in the process of being employed as Manual Scavengers like deaths while entering sewers, manholes etc. since its formation in 2007. On getting information about these incidents, SKKS personnel conduct fact-finding exercises in collaboration with like-minded human rights and Dalit organizations. Recourse to legal interventions like registering complaints and filing FIRs, demanding the statutory compensation as per the Supreme Court Order (W.P. (CIVIL) NO. 583 OF 2003) etc. is taken to enforce the provisions of the 2013 Act and create deterrence against the practice of Manual Scavenging.
Lastly, the PEMSR Act 2013 provides for identification of manual scavengers and their rehabilitation. The reluctance of state governments in acknowledging the practice of manual scavenging within their jurisdiction has been the biggest hurdle in moving forward with its eradication. Thamate and SKKS have been working towards submitting self-declaration forms with evidence of persons having been engaged in manual scavenging and pushing the ULBs for their identification and rehabilitation. You can read more about this aspect of our work here.
An important part of Thamate’s vision is that the next generation of the families working as Manual Scavengers (MS) and Safaikarmacharis (SK) should never pick up brooms and shovels and instead break the caste-ordained exploitative cycle by exiting these traditional caste-based occupations. Currently, the drop-out rates among the children of families working as MS/SK is very high, especially at the SSLC (secondary) level. Moreover, those students who have, after a lot of personal and family struggle, managed to educate themselves till degree level or complete vocational training courses, often find it difficult to find employment. For fulfillment of Thamate’s vision, it is important that children coming from these families should attain adequate educational qualifications and find alternative employment in non-traditional occupations.
Towards these goals, Thamate has adopted a three-pronged strategy. Firstly, Thamate runs evening educational-support centres referred to as Bheemshale in residential areas of MS/SK which provide daily educational support to school-going children up to secondary level. Through these supplementary coaching efforts, we hope to not only bring down drop-out rates among the children but also improve their academic performance. Secondly, Thamate encourages and supports students in applying for admissions in residential schools like Morarji Desai and Kittur Rani Chenamma schools run by state government and private schools under Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009. For this purpose, special coaching classes for admission tests to these schools are organized and eligible children are provided support during the admission process. Thirdly, for youths who have completed degrees or vocational training but are not able to find jobs, Youth Resource Centres (YRC) run by Thamate provides skills training and enables placement in alternative employment.
Another aspect of Thamate’s work is to address the general and specific health issues faced by Manual Scavengers (MS)/Safaikarmacharis (SK). The healthcare needs of MS/SK have to be understood in the context of three specific aspects. Firstly, because of the nature of the unclean occupation engaged in by MS/SK, which involves direct contact with human excreta and dead/decomposing animal carcasses, their risk of exposure to infectious and communicable diseases is much higher as compared to the general population. The work of MS/SK involves handling garbage, cleaning sites of open defection, urinals, dry latrines (without water and flush), removing dead animal carcass and unclaimed human cadavers. Many private hospitals and nursing homes indiscriminately dispose waste into general waste without following the guidelines of medical waste disposal. The waste handled by them often contains sharp glass objects, used syringes, contaminated blades and metals making them highly susceptible to cuts, injuries, abscesses, which if ignored can lead to sepsis. They are also at increased risk of exposure to HIV/Hepatitis B. This work also brings MS/SK in contact with hazardous chemicals and substances exposing them to serious health risk. Very often toxic chemicals and acids are disposed without any thought for the persons engaged in cleaning. Most often no protective gears or equipment are provided to them and neither is any first-aid facilities made available if an injury is caused. Several persons engaged in these occupations have undergone amputation of fingers and limbs. The MS/SK are exposed to a wide range of skin and respiratory ailments due to direct contact and inhalation of toxic fumes and chemicals.
Secondly, because of greater incidence of malnutrition and under-nutrition among MS/SK families along with associated syndromes like anaemia, they have a lowered immunity to fight illness and therefore are likely to develop more serious consequences and complications. Thirdly, the habitat where most of the MS/SK reside are not provided with proper sanitation, housing amenities and drinking water which further increases the health risks from communicable diseases faced by the community such as gastro-intestinal, respiratory and skin infections. The very act of entering a stinking man-hole or septic tank can only be done by the numbing influence of alcohol. The incidence of alcoholism in the community that engages in manual scavenging should be seen as an occupational hazard rather than a social evil. Furthermore the act of manual scavenging cannot even be classified as an occupation but rather as a caste based discrimination where ‘choice’ is not an option.
The psychological health of persons engaged in manual scavenging cannot be neglected either. The caste stigma and the nature of manual scavenging can cause low self-esteem, depression, suicidal thoughts, aggression, domestic abuse, drug abuse along with alcoholism. Children whose parents are engaged in manual scavenging can face harassment and bullying by peers, denial of education, neglect and victimisation which can directly increase the drop-out rates among the children. The long standing impact on the mental health of children cannot be ignored.
Given this context, to improve the health conditions of MS/SK, Thamate has adopted multi-pronged strategy of: 1) Working towards strengthening the existing public health system, 2) Linking the community to various government-run healthcare programmes and schemes to ensure access to health-related entitlements; and 3) Organizing FREE and Regular Medical Camps for screening of various medical conditions as immediate health interventions. You can read more about this aspect of our work here.