Delhi govt training manual scavengers in housekeeping work
NEWDELHI: Sitting in an air-conditioned room, 40-year-old Munna Lal listens attentively to the trainer talking about the importance of personal protective equipment (PPE) while doing housing keeping work. He has never used gloves, masks or any such gear while working.
BURHAAN KINU/HT PHOTOn A training session in progress for manual scavengers. Government is running the programme to rehabilitate them. The government is also identifying people engaged in the practice.As he demonstrates to the class how to use a vacuum cleaner wearing a mask and gloves, he tries to comprehend the importance of these odds and ends while doing basic housekeeping work such as cleaning rooms and bathrooms, doing the dishes and the laundry and cleaning the furniture.
“All I keep on is underwear while entering the sewer as it offers freedom of to move around inside. If you wear or take anything else for protection, it increases the risk of getting stuck inside,” Lal says.
Lal, who has been cleaning sewers for the past 18 years, is one of the 36 manual scavengers identified, for the first time so far by the Delhi government, in Shahdara and Northeast districts.
He is part of the first batch of manual scavengers being trained in housing keeping work, as part of the government’s initiative to rehabilitate them as mandated under the Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.
Wearing a red cap and blue T-shirt, Lal and other the manual scavengers learn about new skills to help them make a fresh start and live life with dignity. “Who wants to go inside a sewer? I have to do it for my family,” says Sachin Kumar, who has been cleaning sewers for the past 17 years. His family doesn’t know about his occupation.
“I don’t want my kids to know what I do. I have told them that I’m a daily wage worker. I don’t feel good about it. But to make ends meet, I have do this,” says Kumar, who travels at least three to five km from his residence in Gokulpuri every day for work and earns about ₹7,000-8,000 per month.
The district magistrate of Shahdara K Mahesh, who has organised the training, says, “We have identified nine more people in the east district. The process of identifying manual scavengers is going on. We are not just training the manual scavengers but their dependents too. At present, there are 50 people undergoing training.”
In the three-hour long class, the participants are made to do exercises for personal development. “The focus is not only on imparting skill-based training but also on personal development. We have to boost their morale; make them feel good about themselves and prepare for a new life,” says Vinay K Stephen, chief functionary of Sadik Masih medical social service society, which is conducting the training session.
While they have taken the first step towards starting a new life, most people continue to do manual scavenging around training hours. “How will we sustain our families? We clean the sewer before coming here or after the class,” says Rishi Pal (50). He says that he now finds it difficult to enter the sewer due to his age, but has to do to sustain his loved ones. Kushal (35), another manual scavenger, says although he doesn’t enter the sewer himself, he has to pick up waste by hand. “But I want to leave this job. I have tried doing other things, but the income is not enough to sustain my family. People pay ₹500600 for cleaning the sewer, as not everyone can do it,” he says.
A lot of women, mostly dependants of manual scavengers, are part of the training but few who still work as manual scavengers. Wearing a mask, gloves and an apron, Kashmiri (50) shows the class of 20 how to operate a vacuum cleaner. However, before the class, she goes around in her colony in east Delhi to collect waste and clean drains. “I cover my face with my duppatta and pick up the waste,” she says.
For the government, it is a challenging task to identify manual scavengers in the city as most people don’t come forward due to the social stigma attach to it. The government plans to get the current batch placed in hotels and private firms. “This is also a confidence building exercise. Once these people get rehabilitated, more people will come forward. We could identify these people with the help of NGOs,” says Mahesh.