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100 Citizens Killed in Sewer-Septic Tank Cleaning: SKA Demands National Apology from Prime Minister

Today marks the 379th day of Safai Karamchari Andolan’s nationwide "StopKillingUs" campaign, demanding immediate government action to prevent these tragic deaths.
safai karmchari

File Photo.

New Delhi: The Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA) has called for a national apology from the Prime Minister as the death toll reaches 100 citizens in sewer and septic tank cleaning incidents. Today marks the 379th day of SKA's nationwide "StopKillingUs" campaign, demanding immediate government action to prevent these tragic deaths. The persistence of these fatalities sheds light on the caste-based exploitation and untouchability prevalent in India, exposing the government's apathy and insensitivity towards the issue.

A Press release of the organisation signed by Bezwada Wilson, national convenor, states that since the launch of the nationwide #StopKillingUs campaign on May 11 last year, the SKA has been actively protesting and demanding accountability from the government. Despite their continuous efforts, the ruling dispensation has maintained a shameful and criminal silence. Shockingly, these deaths within the community persist, highlighting the government's disregard for the lives lost in these unfortunate incidents.

The SKA emphasises that every citizen in India is guaranteed the right to a dignified life under the constitution. However, this fundamental right is systematically denied to the Safai Karmacharis, predominantly involved in sanitation work. The #StopKillingUs campaign aims to end these deaths and eradicate the brutal practice of untouchability and caste-based violence. In a show of solidarity, the community has united, raising their voices against this injustice with the slogan of #JaiBhim, paying homage to Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian constitution.

The alarming reality is that over 2000 Safai Karamcharis have lost their lives while cleaning sewers and septic tanks in India. Despite the Supreme Court's judgment in 2014, which explicitly prohibited individuals from entering such hazardous environments, the daily violation of this ruling continues throughout the country. In 2013, the Parliament also passed the Manual Scavenging (Prohibition) Act, prohibiting the employment of individuals from cleaning human excreta without protective measures. Yet, community members continue to perish in the sewers and tanks filled with human excreta, raising questions about the government's lack of action and their deeply ingrained casteist mindsets.

These killings not only devastate the families of the deceased but also plunge them into dire economic crises. The Safai Karamchari community, already marginalised due to the caste-based system, suffers further as their children's future prospects are shattered. The government's indifference to the community's challenges fuels the anger behind the #StopKillingUs campaign. The community has mobilised nationwide, from Kashmir to Kerala and from Delhi to Kanyakumari, demanding one simple plea - to stop killing them.

The SKA finds the government's deafening silence on this issue intolerable. They remain resolute in their fight against caste-based abuse, vowing to continue their democratic struggle. For the past 40 years, the SKA has been tirelessly working to eradicate the practice of manual scavenging, and they now call for necessary interventions to prevent further deaths in sewer-septic tanks.

The primary demands put forth by the SKA include a national apology from the Prime Minister for the killings in sewers and septic tanks and the historical injustice endured by the Safai Karmachari community. They also demand the disclosure of data on Indian citizens who have lost their lives in such incidents since the enactment of the Manual Scavenging (Prohibition) Act of 1993. Additionally, the SKA seeks to hold government officials accountable for these deaths, with the responsibility falling on the District Magistrate of the respective district. They further call for a comprehensive special package, including dignified non-sanitation government jobs, guaranteed free education for children, pensions for widows and parents, and housing and healthcare for the victims' families.

The SKA highlights previous government surveys' failure to eradicate manual scavenging, as none of the deceased individuals listed in the SKA records was included. Therefore, they demand a new survey encompassing all Safai Karmacharis. Lastly, the organisation insists that the government establishes a deadline to end these killings in sewers and septic tanks, as securing the right to life should be the government's top priority.

The Safai Karmachari Andolan's relentless efforts and demands for justice have garnered nationwide attention, urging the government to address the issue urgently and take tangible steps towards eradicating these preventable deaths.

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