How to clean up manual scavenging? Get a toilet degree

Maitri Porecha New Delhi | Updated on August 21, 2018

The World Toilet College in Aurangabad hopes to give sewer cleaners a new life

Sunil Chandliya dropped out of school after fifth grade. For over 20 years, he cleaned sewers for a living. Today, at 30, he is excited about going to college: the World Toilet College in Aurangabad, Maharashtra.

“My father died when I was five. At ten, I was forced to look for a job. I have been cleaning sewers for two decades now,” says Chandliya.

Until four years ago, he did not know that one could die of noxious gases inside a sewer. “Four years ago, two men at the CIDCO site in Aurangabad died after inhaling sewer gases. Only a few days later, we went back to our jobs unaffected by the deaths, cleaning sewers that are at times 14-feet deep. We needed to earn our daily bread. No one ever spoke to us about being cautious until a few months ago, when we started congregating for awareness meetings in our basti (locality),” he explains.

The college is the initiative of a handful of corporates, including Reckitt Benckiser, IL&FS, and BVG India, and non-profit groups such as Pehal and the Singapore-based World Toilet Organisation, all of which have banded together to start the conversation around manual scavenging. “Four years have passed since Swachh Bharat was announced, and no one was sensitive to the plight of manual scavengers till the college opened,” Chandliya says.

According to Census 2011, there are 1.82 lakh households with at least one member involved in manual scavenging.

According to data compiled by the Safai Karmachari Aandolan, which calls itself “a movement to eradicate manual scavenging in India”, at least 813 sewer-related deaths were reported in India between 1993 and December 2017.

The college aims to train 5,000 workers, says Narasimhan Eswar, Senior Vice President and Managing Director, Reckitt Benckiser Hygiene & Home, South Asia. “It’s a drop in the ocean, [but] it’s a beginning.”.

“While an average Indian’s life expectancy has risen to 75, sewer workers are stuck in the pre-independence era. Some die as young as 45, falling prey to diseases such as tuberculosis or alcoholism,” says Eswar.

“They grease themselves with black oil used in automobiles; this causes skin infections. We are informing them about the safety-gear they ought to use, and the kind of infections they are prone to, among other things,” he adds. Chandliya concurs. “I have realised that I must use gum boots and gloves while working. I get bruised and scratched while working. I will get a tetanus vaccine every year now,” he says.

He earns close to ₹10,000 a month and intends to continue cleaning sewers even after the training at the college if he does not get a job that pays better. But he is pinning his hopes on better prospects through the course.

“We have tied up with BVG India Group to try and get house-keeping jobs for the workers who train with us,” says Ravi Bhatnagar, Director, External Affairs and Partnerships, RB.

Published on August 20, 2018

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