Urging media to help focus the attention of society on the inhuman practice of manual scavenging, UNICEF Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) specialist Mr Amit Mehrotra, said that, proper and sustained sanitation drives will surely help in eradication of many killer diseases, including diarrhea, typhoid, jaundice and most importantly polio.
"It may shock you to know that one gram of human excreta might contain one core virus and bacteria including polio virus," said Mr Mehrotra, while addressing the monthly media sensitization programme Media for Children (M4C), organized by Media Nest at Uttar Pradesh Press Club. M4C which will be completing two years this November 2010 is supported by UNICEF.
All praise for the district Administration Budaun, which took up the campaign of turning the dry toilets in their district into pour flush one. Mr Mehrotra shared with the media the turnaround story of the district which lags behind on all development parameters and is one of the high risk polio district in the state. Present along with him was the District Panchayat Raj Officer (DPRO), Mr R K Chaudhuri and three rehabilitated manual scavengers from Budaun.
Mr Mehrotra said that UNCEF have initiated a campaign in Budaun for the removal of dry toilets (toilets where faecal matter is disposed within the courtyards of people households).
"As per a survey there are about 60,000 such toilets in Budaun out of which about 20,000 toilets have been converted into pour flush toilets from July 2010 till now. The campaign is on" said Mr Mehrotra adding that this is a massive campaign which is contributing in polio eradication efforts in the district. Also, 200 manual scavengers have also been rehabilitated by linking them with various social development schemes.
"99 per cent manual scavengers are females from the age group of 16 to 70 years. They have been thoroughly exploited over generations. For all the dirty labour that they have been doing for centuries they were handed over some food, and that also from a distance. It is a sad story that has to be felt and told," said Mr Chaudhury who proudly quoted figures to tell how they all worked hard to take Budaun district out of the mess that it was in.
He described the great difficulties that came in the way.
"Neither scavengers nor their families were convinced that rehabilitation was a good solution to their problem. Thoughts of what they would do after they left this work made them afraid to come out in support of the programme and we had to find ways to address their fears," said Mr Chaudhuri.
The first step was to get scholarship forms filled for their children, ensure enrollment and try to push discrimination, Below Poverty Line (BPL) cards were also provided to them, vocational training camps were also organized where they were taught how to make zari embroidery, carpet weaving etc. This gave the women confidence and nearly 2000 quit the dirty work that they and their families had been doing for generations.
"I have left the dirty work, now I feel like a human being, I appeal to all women of my community to do the same," said 18 year old Babita who had come from Budaun. Babita does not even remember from what age she was initiated into this trade of carry human excreta.
For 30 year old Beena who had never done this work before her marriage at the age of 14, life was hell at her husband's house. She was beaten black and blue when she refused to support the family and join the other female members in this dirty trade.
"It has just been two months since I left the dirty work and I already feel as if I am also a part of this society, I enjoy being treated as a human being, I will never allow my daughter (one year old gudiya in her arms) to suffer what I did," said Beena as she interacted with the media persons.
(The author is a senior journalist writing for Citizen News Service (CNS), and also serves as the Secretary-General of Media Nest. Website: www.citizen-news.org)