WaterAid has released a new report calling for ‘strong action’ to wipe out manual scavenging – the job of physically removing human waste from toilets.

The practice, is according to the charity still widespread in India, despite being outlawed in 1993.

The Burden of Inheritance report, released this week, claims more than 1m people in India continue to scrape an existence through manual scavenging, forced largely by social convention.

The report’s co-author and WaterAid’s head of policy in India, Indira Khurana, said: “India takes pride in a constitution which guarantees a free and dignified existence to all its citizens.

“However, the vibrant face of modern India has an ugly stain – the practice of manual scavenging. A section of society continues to be forced to work in stinking sub-human conditions by a centuries-old custom.”

Around 80% of these people are women and almost all are Dalits, the bottom of India’s strict caste system, and therefore considered untouchable by other Indians.

According to the report they will often have inherited their ‘scavenging rights’ and been tasked from an early age with removing human waste from public or private toilets, which have no flushing system, to dispose of elsewhere.

Men who are scavengers usually have to manually clean out sewers and septic tanks. Scavengers are paid a pittance and treated with disdain and social stigmatism.

It also states 90% of scavengers are given no protective equipment, working only with basic tools such as broomsticks and buckets.

And, as a result poor health is common and they are at a much greater risk of diseases such as dysentery, malaria, typhoid and tuberculosis.

Luke Walsh

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie