Sultanpur: In an incident pointing to the collective failure in curbing manual scavenging, five people were killed inside a septic tank in Sultanpur district of Uttar Pradesh on Friday.
According to Sultanpur police, Mohammad Shareef, a mason by profession, was called to repair a septic tank at the house of Ramteerath Nishad in Katghara Patti village of Sultanpur where this incident happened.
“First, Mohammad Shareef, 52, fell into the 10-feet-deep septic tank, which was overflowing with water and had toxic gases, as there was no outlet pipe for the gases to be released. Soon, others climbed down the tank in a bid to save Shareef, but they all became unconscious and then were rushed to the Dostpur community health centre where five were declared dead,” read the official statement released by the Sultanpur police.
The Uttar Pradesh chief minister expressed his condolences; however, announcement regarding solatium is yet to be made. Those killed in the incident have been identified as Rajesh Nishad (32), Ashok Nishad (40), Ravindra Nishad (25), Mohammad Shareed (52) and Ram Kishan Nishad (40). They were all residents of the same village and were working as manual scavengers.
Pall of gloom grips Katghara Patti village
A pall of gloom has gripped the Katghara Patti village—situated about 50 kilometre from the Sultanpur district headquarters. According to a local expert, Asghar Naqvi, a large chunk of the population of this village comprise Nishads—considered to be from the lowest caste, and a majority of Nishads or Balmikis from this village are in the profession of manual scavenging.
“The death of five people from the village has led to a small protest from the villagers who are demanding a hefty sum of money as compensation for those who have lost their family members in this tragic incident. The government is yet to make any announcement and as per my knowledge, they will receive the compensation as per the provisions of the SC/ST Act,” Naqvi said.
Ramteerath, whose septic tank was being repaired, said that he was getting the tank constructed since last one year, as he has been doing the work in phases, as per the availability of funds.
“I never knew that this repairing work would turn into such a big disaster. I was in the field when this happened and villagers, family members tried their best to save their lives, but they died,” he said, adding that he was getting the repairing work done privately without the help of the government.
“If you think it’s my fault, then arrest me and send me to the jail. These people were like family members to us,” he said.
Dalit journalist Rajendra Gautam, who is based in Lucknow, said that even though the government is serious about reducing such deaths, the district administrations have always failed in providing essential accessories like cleaning gloves, masks and other things to manual scavengers.
“Such deaths in the 21st century should make us feel ashamed. People are dying while cleaning human faeces! The state government should immediately issue strict orders for the implementation of stringent procedures to follow while cleaning the septic tanks and a separate department should be made with nodal officers to keep a check on such incidents,” he said.
SEWER DEATHS CONTINUE TO MOUNT, NO PROSECUTION
India is probably the only country to have special laws for the safety of sewage workers; yet, one sanitation worker dies every five days while cleaning septic tanks in the country. The death of sanitation workers has exposed the government’s disregard for this grave issue. Despite several such incidents, workers continue to work in the absence of safety gears in extremely unsafe environments. Almost all of the victims in such cases come from marginalised backgrounds.
According to a study by Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan—a platform working towards eradication of manual scavenging—94% of those who died while cleaning sewers belonged to the Scheduled Castes (SC), while 4% were from Other Backwards Classes (OBCs) and the rest belonged to the Scheduled Tribes (ST).