B orn into a family of manual scavengers ( safai karamchari ) in Kolar, Karnataka, Bezwada Wilson experienced up-close the cruel and dehumanising discrimination inflicted on his community, given the perceived indignity of its occupation. On one occasion, he even contemplated suicide, but found the mental reserve to not yield — and in fact to fight back against the inhuman treatment.

Now 52, Wilson, one of the founders of Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA), a human rights organisation, campaigns for total eradication of manual scavenging and for the rehabilitation of all scavengers to dignified occupations.

Wilson, a Magsaysay award winner in 2016, and the SKA have much to show for their efforts — the number of manual scavengers has come down from 15 lakh in 1996 to 53,236 in 2018 — but he will not be done till the last of them is freed from the practice and goes on to find employment in a respected line of work.

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