Let alone human dignity, this is against human rights and humanity itself. Narayana, a pourakarmika, died by suicide, penning a death note alleging that he took the drastic step after facing harassment from his senior officers. Manual scavenging should have long ago been a thing of the past, only it is not and the oppressed labourers continue to be forced into it.

Manual scavenging in Mysore
[Representational image]Creative commons

So deep were the mental scars of harassment that the 37-year-old Pourakarmika died on Tuesday, allegedly three months after he was forced to enter a manhole and clean it sans any safety gear or gloves. Narayana, was forced to clean a manhole on November 3, 2020. His note mentions two officials in the Maddur Town Municipal Council. An FIR has also been filed against the two in police station under Section 34 and 306 of the Indian Penal Code.

After the video of him being made to clean a manhole with bare hands in Maddur town, went viral, Narayana, as alleged by him, was being harassed by senior officials to state that he had voluntarily cleaned the manhole without any safety gear even though he was given the safety equipment by municipal officials. Narayana is survived by his three children, who have now become orphans as his wife died five years ago.

Damage control, compensation

The incident has rightfully received the attention and ire it deserves on media and an enquiry has been ordered against Narayana's senior officials. Two days after the incident, Karnataka State Safai Karamchari Commission chairman M Shivanna visited Maddur and the house of Narayana. A meeting was also scheduled with Maddur Town Municipal Council to take action against those responsible for the death and to work out the compensation to be paid to his family. The exact compensation to be paid to Pourakarmika's bereaved family is yet to be worked out.

The law is there, but no will to implement

The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 prohibits construction or maintenance of insanitary latrines and any sort of employment of any person for the act of manual scavenging or cleaning up of sewers, septic tanks etc. Engaging anyone in these acts is punishable with imprisonment for upto five years or a fine of Rs 5 lakh or both.

Shame on whom?

Manual scavenging is inhuman and despite the legal ban, a reality. This is not the first time, the pourakarmikas have been failed by the system. Them not being paid on time is not an unheard of news, rather is a frequent one. For every demand, usually a strike ensues.

In July of last year, the delay in payment even extended to PPE kits, drinking water and sanitization of work equipment and lack of quarantine facilities. BBMP Sangha President Nirmala M even threatened to go on a strike following the death of a pourakarmika who succumbed to Covid-19.

The anger at the human abuse was rightfully directed at the authorities. As if stripping them of rights and dignity wasn't enough, now the harassment was forcing them to end their lives without any hope.