Despite its abolition in 1993, the dehumanizing practice of manual scavenging continued in most parts of India. Over the last decade, Bezwada Wilson has successfully led the nationwide movement to eliminate this in India.
His organization, Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA), has served as a watchdog pushing for legal action to demolish dry toilets across India and prepare manual scavengers, most of who are dalits, to pursue new sources of income. Through a strong volunteer network of 6900 members, who are either scavengers or their children, SKA has directly reached more than 3 lakh manual scavengers. To help them understand their rights and exit options, volunteers facilitate conversations and discussions amongst the members around the existing law on elimination of manual scavenging, available rehabilitation financial schemes and future plans. Discussions around caste system and patriarchal systems also help scavengers contextualize themselves and the issues they face better. The groups then chart out advocacy strategies and alternative employment opportunities. Through their collective efforts and advocacy manual scavenging has stopped on the ground in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Haryana, Punjab and Orissa.
From 15lakh people who were involved in manual scavenging in 1996, Bezwada’s efforts have reduced it to less than 2 lakh people across the country in 2013. Small organisations across the country have replicated parts of the model which has furthered the reach. In states, where SKA successfully eliminated manual scavenging, volunteers have started work with septic tank and sewerage workers focusing on their rehabilitation.
Bezwada lobbied with the government to introduce The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 under which rehabilitation schemes have been added into the existing law on manual scavenging. This includes INR 40000 cash compensation for stepping into a new job and life. A 5-15 lakh loan facility is also provided as financial aid to help pave new directions with a maximum of 3 lakh subsidy. To ensure support for such schemes, Bezwada collects data on the status of manual scavenging across India and presents it to the members of parliament and the Government.
Bezwada’s goal is to detach manual scavenging and sanitary work from Dalits, in the larger context of reforming the caste system, by pushing government agencies to replace manual scavenging with mechanization. His team continues its efforts towards a zero manual scavenger and dry toilet India.
Note: This was updated in March, 2014. Read on for the ELECTION profile.