HealthOh Shit!

Manual Scavengers: AKA Shit Removers

By October 9, 2012 No Comments

(Photo: Mohammed Yousuf)

In my last post, I mentioned that I was going to get in and get dirty to spark conversation about how conditions such as where people live, learn, work and play lead to fundamental inequities in how healthy some people are in comparison to others. I have decided to bypass digging in and dive straight into excreta. I’m talking about poop. Because, holy crap, there’s a lot of shit to talk about.

This week, as I was perusing content for my post, I stumbled upon “Lesser Humans,” a documentary by Stalin K about “manual scavenging.” Have you heard of this? It’s the term used in India for the manual handling and removal of human excreta (i.e. shit) and it was completely shocking and unknown to me. The video is almost ten years old, and is still powerful, as the practice is still happening today.

Although legally banned through various laws and provisions of India’s constitution, this degrading and inhumane practice still exists both in urban and rural areas throughout India. According to the 2011 Census of India, there are still over 2.6 million dry latrines in the country where the human shit is manually cleaned up by humans. Apart from these, there are over 1.3 million toilets where the human excreta is flushed into open drains, through toilets that are cleaned by human beings who strip down into their underwear and are physically lowered into the sewers to manually haul out the shit. Watch the video if you don’t believe me.

This degrarding work falls to Dalits, the world’s biggest minority. They comprise about sixteen percent of the Indian population, roughly 170 million people.  The way I see it, untouchability is the biggest ongoing human rights violation that the world knows nothing about. Imagine being raised to believe that the only job you were capable of or suitable to perform was handling other people’s shit – or worse, being immersed in it. Imagine what that would do to your mental well-being. Now imagine doing it and what that would do to your health.

Shit removers are not leading long, healthy, happy, lives. This disparity is part of a systemically ingrained system. And no one is talking about it because no one knows. Spread the word and help stop this shit.

(Tune in next time – we’ll be talking about the World Toilet Summit.)


Author Shannon McGarry

Shannon McGarry is a creative and passionate advocate for social change with extensive experience in crafting innovative health communication strategies and directing grassroots campaigns for community mobilization. Prior to coming to Baltimore, Shannon was instrumental in opening the first private school in Lethem, Guyana, where she also served 15 communities as a Peace Corps Volunteer, acting as a Health Promotion Advisor to the Guyana Hinterland Community Based Water and Sanitation Project. She holds a Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management and Leadership from the University of Missouri as well as a BA in International Development from the University of New Hampshire.

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