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CASTE SYSTEM AT WORST: India's 'night soil gatherers' collect human excrement

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
8/26/2014 (2 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Dry latrines slowly but surely being replaced with flush toilets

Due to a brutal caste system, as well as being a nation tolerant of open defecation and dry, non-flush latrines, women born into a certain community are condemned to live out their lives scooping up human excrement out of toilets. Called "night soil gatherers, these women lead a life of shame and ostracism. India is slowly, but surely, working to correct this.

An overwhelming majority of manual scavengers are women, according to the U.N. They are still inextricably linked to cleaning human excrement.

An overwhelming majority of manual scavengers are women, according to the U.N. They are still inextricably linked to cleaning human excrement.

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
8/26/2014 (2 years ago)

Published in Asia Pacific

Keywords: Night soil gatherers, India, caste system, flush toilets


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Most belong to the Valmiki caste, regarded as the lowest among the Dalits. Women born into this system have nothing to look forward to other than a lifetime of scooping human excrement.

"She said that we are born to do this. First, we clean the waste of others and then we get to eat," one woman says.

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"The worst days were when it rained. The waste would drip onto your neck and shoulders," she adds. "You wanted to keep throwing up."

She continued to be a manual scavenger in her husband's village until 2012 when Sulabh International, a non- profit organization, replaced the dry latrines in her village with flush toilets.

The Indian parliament passed a stringent law against manual scavenging last year . to little effect. Thousands upon thousands of Indian women continue the practice in villages across this sprawling country.

Human Rights Watch says that in spite of the ban on the handling of human excrement, members of the lowest rungs of the Dalit caste are being coerced into doing this work in rural and urban India.

According to the group, consequences of trying to quit range from physical violence to expulsion from public life.

The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and the Rehabilitation Act 2013 prescribes a prison term for one year or a fine of $826 (50,000 rupees) for engaging manual scavengers. Offenses under the Bill are cognizable and without bail.

The law has provisions for rehabilitation of manual scavengers by providing them training for an alternative livelihood, financial assistance to buy a house or plot of land, subsidy and concessional loans and scholarships for their children.

The continuing practice of manual scavenging has been called the worst form of caste discrimination against Dalits, both Hindus and Muslims - who have been shunned as "untouchables" for centuries.

An overwhelming majority of manual scavengers are women, according to the U.N. They are still inextricably linked to cleaning human excrement.

Manual scavenging, which also involves stepping into drains and septic tanks, is also a health hazard. The lack of private toilets has been identified as a grave safety risk for women who must find isolated spots to relieve themselves.

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