Tamil Nadu Conservancy workers trade union conducted a Public hearing on manual scavenging workers in Karur, Tamil Nadu, India on February 7, 2016, where fifteen depositions were presented before the jury in front of 400 people. The very workers that keeps the city and the residences of the communities clean do not have a decent place to live. Often they are forced to stay in the sewage canals with most unhygienic places. Within the caste structure, Dalits who work as manual scavengers are usually from the Hindu Valmiki sub-caste. These communities are held at the bottom of the social hierarchy and, accordingly, face discrimination even from within the Dalit community. Considered fit for only the most “polluting” labor, their role is to manually dispose of human excrement and perform other unsanitary tasks. In March 2014, in an effort to resolve this, the Supreme Court of India estimated that there are 9.6 million dry latrines that are still being cleaned manually by people belonging to the Scheduled Castes. This does not take into account manual cleaning of open defecation from roads and other areas, removing excrement flushed into uncovered drains by private households in rural, semi-urban, and underdeveloped urban areas, or manual cleaning of private and government septic tanks. In a landmark judgement in 2014, the Supreme Court ordered the abolition of manual scavenging and asked state governments to provide financial assistance and rehabilitation to those who had lost a family member to the inhuman practice.

In order to highlight the reality of these workers to a larger public and to bring out legal issues for the state to take immediate action, a public hearing was organized with cases presented to a jury.

Two persons died of asphyxiation while they were cleaning the septic tank in a plastic company in Karur. A widow presented the case where her husband died during his service time but the government has not yet paid death compensation and other benefits the deceased person or his family is entitled to have. Others demanded higher pay, as they made only 2.000Rps(26€) per month, which isn’t enough to live from. Another conservancy worker worked in Chennai in scavenging work after the floods. The government authorities did not provide them with safety equipments, so they had to work with bare hands, removing carcasses, debris and draining sewerage. No accommodation had been provided and remuneration has yet to be paid. Another worker did the same job for ten days only received 200Rps total instead of the promised remuneration of Rs1.000. A woman worked without protective gears like gloves and facial mask and was afflicted with a soar throat, becoming incapable of eating, swallowing and spitting. She had to spend 20.000Rps at the hospital and for

medication, nothing of which was reimbursed and the administration did not even give her leave when undergoing medical treatment.

At the end of the public hearing, the participants observed one minute silence as paying homage and honouring the conservancy workers, who died of asphyxiation. This hearing was conducted in solidarity with Tamil Nadu Conservancy workers Federation, TAAMS, Tamil Nadu Land Rights Movement, SWATE, Dalit Rights Awareness Liberation Movement, Janodhayam and AREDS. Next, the jury will turn each deposition into a case to be filed with the respective department and take legal action against the erring officials and departments, with the support of the solidarity movements.

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