Dubai: Hundreds of people gathered in New Delhi today to protest the deaths of manual scavengers in India, after 11 people died in just one week this month.
According to a local newspaper The Indian Express, 123 manual scavengers have lost their lives since January 2017. The Indian National Commission for Safai Karamcharis [sanitation workers], which is a body set up for the welfare of sanitation workers, added that this number could also be an underestimation, considering the lack of data.
On social media #StopKillingUs was used by people who attended the protests to highlight the problem.
Tweep @Dipankar_cpiml who was at the protest wrote: “Modi brags about 35 new airports in four years and keeps mum about the horror of serial sewer deaths - one every five days - of sanitation workers. Here’s Delhi civil society in solidarity with several victim families from across the country. #StopKillingUs #SwachhBharat”
Modi brags about 35 new airports in 4 years and keeps mum about the horror of serial sewer deaths - one every five days - of sanitation workers. Here's Delhi civil society in solidarity with several victim families from across the country. #StopKillingUs #SwachhBharat pic.twitter.com/s3UTrtSXWE— Dipankar (@Dipankar_cpiml) September 25, 2018
Other Twitter users felt that the BJP government alone was not to be blamed for the sewer deaths. They called it a collective failure of the system.
Tweep @smrutimumbai wrote: “This is India’s shame. No matter whose government and which party in power, this is a shame. #sewerdeaths”
@btsbunny13 added: “...and it is equally heartbreaking that the government and Supreme Court choose to keep quiet regarding this issue. #sewerdeaths #manualscavenging #StopKillingUs”
Activist @BezwadaWilson tweeted: “These deaths are not accidents or coincidences or even tragedies — they are a consequence of our wilful apathy. These are killings.”
Tweeps also highlighted the stark irony of these deaths when the government claims its Clean India Campaign to be a success.
@FeminismInIndia tweeted: “Don’t carry a jhaadu [broom] for photo-ops when a word doesn’t come out of your mouth about these issues. Don’t build toilets if you can’t make sure the ones who clean them don’t die.” - Kavita Krishnan #StopKillingUs”
Other Twitter users shared updates from the protests on how the families of victims continued to suffer.
@sucheta_ml, who was at the protest, tweeted: “Women whose near ones were killed [while cleaning] sewers speak up at the protest in Parliament Street. ‘My son was offered Rs500 to clean a gutter. He never came out alive. Either we will die in hunger or in the gutter. What is our crime that we have to live and die like this?’”
But will protests like these make a real difference in the lives of thousands of santiation workers?
Twitter account @FeminismInIndia quoted Supreme Court advocate Usha Ramanathan at the protest as saying: “‘I don’t know what to even say, because the people who are supposed to hear us aren’t here. They don’t speak about this issue, okay. But I fear the moment they stop listening to us.’ - SC advocate Usha Ramanathan.”
Earlier this month, the death of a sanitation worker named Anil and photographs of his son grieving at his father’s body, made national and international news. The government enacted a law in 2013 banning the employment of manual scavengers in the country,
In March 2014, the Supreme Court released the information that there were 960,000 dry latrines being manually emptied, as part of a writ petition by the Safai Karamchari Andolan [sanitation workers’ body] that it was looking into.