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April 02, 2021 Friday 03:16:44 PM IST

Stop Manual Scavenging

Policy Indications

Kastoori - The Musk, is the story of Gopi, a 14-year-old boy, who has to engage in manual scavenging and post-mortem to afford his education. The Marathi film directed by Vinod Kamble won a national award for the Best Children's Film in the recently announced 67th National Film Awards, India. 

Despite the passage of two legislations - The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 and The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 or M.S. Act 2013 - the prevalence of manual scavenging in India is an open secret. The occupation of sanitation work is intrinsically linked with the caste in India. It was estimated in 2019 that between 40 to 60 per cent of the 6 million households of Dalit sub-castes are engaged in sanitation work. And there are no official statistics on the number of children getting an education. Several reports show that casteism, untouchability, and discrimination keep children of manual scavengers out of schools. 

The movie Kastoori is based on real events and makes a call for inclusive education. Like Gopi, Vinod Kamble is from Solapur, Maharashtra. Vinod says, “The idea for Kastoori came from an article in a Marathi newspaper, about a boy who has been doing post-mortems from the time he was in Class VIII. Along with this, I tried to portray myself in the movie. My grandfather was a sweeper. When I was in school, my teacher would ask me to clean the gutters. I was asked to do this job because of my background. As a kid, I had faced enough exclusion due to my skin tone, language, and caste. 

“All children, irrespective of caste or economic backgrounds, deserve a good quality education. Governments should announce more scholarships and welfare schemes for the children of the scavengers. They can make a collective effort by joining hands with NGOs, schools, teachers, and parents. And it should be compulsory to use machines for sanitation works."

“Above all, our teachers and schools should change their attitude towards the children of this background. Most children of sanitation workers are reluctant to attend school as they face discrimination even from teachers, who are supposed to support them,” concludes Vinod. 

Robotics to the rescue 

Genrobotics, a Robotics company, headquartered in Trivandrum, Kerala, invented Bandicoot - the manhole cleaning robot, intending to transform the lives of sanitation workers. The company CEO Vimal Govind MK says, “Sanitation is a basic necessity. But why do we still require humans to do the sanitation works? Artificial Intelligence can do wonders. The Bandicoot is a flexible robotic machine that is engineered for cleaning any type of sewer manholes. It is efficient than humans in terms of time and efficiency of manhole cleaning. We introduced the machine in 2018. The impact has been overwhelming. The Bandicoot is functional in 14 states in India. We were able to rehabilitate more than 1000 workers. The machine offers economic advantages as we can save around 10000 rupees a day with one robot.”

“Post Bandicoot launch, we witnessed more efforts from the India government to mechanise the manhole cleaning process. Last year, the government launched Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge with the tagline Manhole to Machine-Hole whereas ours is Manhole to Robo Hole. In Union Budget 2020, an allocation has been made for sanitation. The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020, is likely to make banning manual scavenging more stringent.” 

Policy Recommendations

Dr. H. Beck and Dr.Shaileshkumar Sahebrao Darokar of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India, had conducted a study* on Socioeconomic Status of Scavengers Engaged in the Practice of Manual Scavenging in Maharashtra. 


1. Rehabilitation of scavenger communities through training, education, sustainable employment to overcome the caste stigma.

2. Provision for loans, self-employment, self-reliance.

 3. First preference for children of scavengers in technical and professional institutions to build a good career. 

4. Set up schools to be managed by scavenger communities in big cities.

*Study - Reference: Shaileshkumar Darokar (2005) – Socio-Economic Status of Scavengers Engaged in Practice of Manual Scavenging in Maharashtra, Indian Journal of Social Work, 66 (2), April. 

Dhanya AK

Dhanya AK is a journalist with over a decade of experience in print, broadcast and online media. She holds a PG Diploma in PR and Advertising from Kerala Media Academy.   Read more articles..