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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 22, May 27, 2023

Stop these unabated sewer & septic tanks deaths - Press Release from Safai Karmachari Andolan (May 24, 2023)

Sunday 28 May 2023


Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA)


In 379 days 100 citizens killed in Sewer-septic tank cleaning,

We Demand for a national apology from the Prime Minister

It is the 379th day of Safai Karmachari Andolan’s nationwide

“StopKillingUs" campaign demanding for government action to stop these unabated sewer & septic tanks deaths immediately

New Delhi. 24-05-2023

Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA) has been demanding a guarantee to life from Central and state governments for more than a year with daily demonstrations on streets at various places across the country. From the day SKA started this nationwide campaign last year, 100 Indian citizens were killed in sewer and septic tanks. This is the stark reality of caste-based exploitation and untouchability, which narrates the absolute political apathy and insensitive attitude of governments.

To stop unabated killings of Indian citizens in sewer and septic tanks, SKA launched a nationwide #StopKillingUs campaign on May 11 last year. Safaikarmacharis across the country have come to the streets raising their voice, demanding just this one accountability from the governments, but the ruling dispensation has maintained its shameless and criminal silence over this matter. To our dismay and great anguish, even after this daily struggle on the streets of this country there has been no stopping of the deaths of people from community in gutters and pits. Governments are neither ready to take any initiative in this regard nor even willing to give any concrete assurance. It seems as if the governments have no value for these lives lost so abruptly on such a regular basis.

Our constitution guarantees a right to dignified life to every citizen (Article 21, Article 14, Article 15 & Article 17). But the Safai Karmacharis of the country are denied of this basic right. In India, sanitation work is caste-based. Almost all people losing their lives in gutters come from a particular community. The motive behind #StopKillingUs campaign was to stop these killings and thus bring an end to this brutal form of untouchability and caste-based violence. Agonizingly pained with this institutional injustice meted out to our community, we decided to come out onto the streets to bring community together in raising our voice against this injustice with the slogan of #JaiBhim, as a tribute to the founding father of our constitution Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar. We demonstrated a deep faith in our democratic process and demanded a reply from our elected governments.

So far more than 2000 Safai Karmacharis have lost their lives in country while cleaning sewers and septic tanks. Who is responsible for these killings? The Supreme Court of India in its judgment on a PIL lodged by us, had said on 27 March 2014 that no person can be asked to go down the sewers and septic tanks even in emergency circumstances. But this judgment is violated daily and everywhere across the country. The Parliament of the country passed a Manual Scavenging (Prohibition) Act in 2013 which prohibits employing anyone to clean human excreta with bare hands. Still, our community is regularly killed inside the sewers and septic tanks filled with human excreta. Why? Why are governments not willing to take any step to address this dehumanising practice? Doesn’t this reflect their casteist mindsets?

These killings, force the Safaikarmachari community and especially the families of deceased persons into deep crisis and to live their life in dire circumstances. They get trapped in a cycle of economic crisis. This system based on untouchability has pushed this community even more to the margins. The future of the children, is in ruins. Their welfare is shattered. But governments just turn a blind eye to all of this. The anger against this institutional apathy is shaping and driving the #StopKillingUs campaign. From Kashmir to Kerala and Delhi to Kanyakumari, everywhere people from community came to roads to raise just one voice - Stop Killing Us!

This deafening silence from the government on this burning issue is absolutely intolerable. We are determined to take forward this fight against caste-based abuse in a democratic manner. Safai Karmachari Andolan has been working for complete eradication of the practice of manual scavenging for the last 40 years. It believes in taking every necessary step and intervention to stop these killings in sewer-septic tanks.

In this regard, our major demands are as follows:

1. The Prime Minister of the country should tender a National Apology to Safai Karmachari community for the killings in sewers and septic tanks and the historic injustice done to them for centuries.

2. The Prime Minister should present before the Parliament the data of the Indian citizens who have lost their lives while cleaning sewers and septic tanks since the promulgation of the Manual Scavenging (Prohibition) Act of 1993.

3. Government officials should be made liable and accountable for such killings, pinning the responsibility of every such death on the District Magistrate of the concerned district.

4. These killings are directly related to the practice of untouchability and caste violence, which has been continuously pushing this community towards peril. To break this cycle, government should announce a comprehensive special package for the community which should guarantee an inclusive process

for the welfare of all the victims’ families. They should be provided dignified, non-sanitation government jobs. All families should get a guarantee of free education (including higher education) for their children, , pensions for the widows and parents, housing and healthcare.

5. The killings of more than 2000 safai karmacharis in the sewers and septic tanks exposes the failure of the government surveys done for eradication of manual scavenging. None of the deceased persons, whose details are available with SKA, were covered under these surveys. Hence a fresh survey should be undertaken covering all safaikarmacharis.

6. Government should announce a deadline for bringing an end to these killings in sewers and septic tanks. To guarantee our right to life should be the top priority for the government.

Bezwada Wilson

National Convenor

Safai karmachari Andolan

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