City anchor: Maharashtra claim on scavenging by animals a ‘lie’
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"I did not know how I would survive. What my kids will eat. How my husband will react. But I had to leave it. For my dignity. I decided to stop cleaning open latrines," said 41-year old Choti Bai.
Over 100 women from Madhya Pradesh were in Mumbai Monday as part of their two-month-long Maila Mukti Yatra (National People's March for Eradication of Manual Scavenging in India). The group, traveling since November 30, aims to cover 200 districts in 18 states.
Manual scavenging by the community has continued for over two decades after it was banned in 1993. Asif Shaikh, convenor of the yatra, said Maharashtra and Gujarat still had 2,14,475 dry latrines.
Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, prohibits employment of persons for manual scavenging and construction of dry latrines. "Maharashtra denies the practice of manually collecting excreta. However, 2011 Census data show it has 2,14, 475 latrines," said Shaikh.
Mirabai More of Dhule district said the state government claim that most of these latrines were serviced by "animals" was a "blatant lie". "Unless they are categorising us as animals," she said.
Pandharpur Municipal Corporation outsources scavenging and employees a sizeable number of people from the community.
While in most states it is the Balmiki community, a substantial number of Muslims from Hela community also work as scavengers.
Taslim Bi of Ujjain district said it was a double whammy for the (Hela) community. "The government does not accept us as a scavenging caste as we practice Islam, but Muslims continue to discriminate," she said.
Shaikh said many were apprehensive to give up the work. "They feared the basic Rs 1,500-2,000 will also stop. But when we made them understand the minimum wages promised by the government for labourers were much higher and guaranteed dignity, women knew what we were talking."
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