The Government has decided to further reduce the funds in Budget 2021 which are allocated for the rehabilitation of the people who have engaged in manual scavenging. The decline in the allocation and the increase in the deaths of manual scavengers has been a constant trend in the regime of the Modi Government.
The Central government allocates money mainly through two policies: Self-employment scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS), and Pre-Matric Scholarship (PMS) for the children of manual scavengers. The fund for the SRMS has seen a reduction to 100 crore from 110 crore, while the allocation for the Pre-Matric Scholarship has been reduced to a total nil from 25 crores.
The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, passed in 2013, has prohibited any act of manual cleaning, carrying, disposing or handling of human waste. A similar law had earlier prohibited this in 1993. Still, the annual deaths of manual scavengers under the Modi years has kept on increasing, with being 57 in 2015 to 110 in 2019. This clearly shows that the conditions of manual scavengers has worsened by the years under the RSS-backed BJP government. This is, however, surely not surprising. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had written a book called Karmayogi, in 2007 as Gujarat CM, in which he described manual scavenging as a ‘spiritual experience’ for the Valmiki sub-caste of the Dalit community.
In a national survey conducted in 18 States, a total of 48,345 manual scavengers had been identified till January 31, 2020. As per data collected in 2018, 29,923 people are engaged in manual scavenging in Uttar Pradesh, making it the highest in any State in India.
Speaking to Gauri Lankesh News, Bezwada Wilson, one of the founders and the National Convenor of the Safai Karamchari Andolan, has said that this burning issue has just gotten worse and that he is certain that the government is now purposely doing it. “I can’t say that they are ignoring, they know very well about the issue. This hasn’t been hiding, it has been in the limelight. Since 2014 the budget for the manual scavengers is going down”.
“At one place they are publishing in big newspapers that 5 Lakh Dalit children will get scholarship. And in reality, they are cutting the funds for the education of Dalit children. This is happening because there is no voice for them, there is no representation. This is the reason”, Wilson said.
On the reduction of the Pre-Matric Scholarship to zero, the activist said, “Actually the government is not concerned about the poor Dalit-Adivasi Children at all. Most of them go to public schools, which have been closed since an year. They don’t have resources for the digital access. People are dying for food itself. The parents of these children work all day, and sometimes they themselves are made to work. By this time they can’t even write their names and alphabets.” In this way, the lockdown has made all these children prone to dropping out of education. Not providing scholarship makes this situation even worse.
Bezwada Wilson has also said, “I can say very clearly, the government is in a conspiracy to make the Dalit community as a cheap labor and slaves for further.” “The ‘free trade’ and the 5 Trillion Dollar Economy is nonsense if we can’t take care of our own children”.
He is also highly skeptical of the numbers reported by the Government in the Parliament. “The counts are highly problematic, they are reducing the numbers.” The Safai Karamchari Andolan puts the estimate of the total number of Manual Scavengers in the country as close to 1,50,000. Wilson had written in an article in 2018, asserting that the surveys of the government which indicate their number as 50,000 are not adequate, as they are just based out of 121 out of the 640 districts of India. Bezwada Wilson, along with SKA has documented 1870 deaths in the past 15 years in India. He also claims that a very high amount of these cases go unreported and families go uncompensated.