In India, half a million women work as scavengers removing human waste
from the streets with only bowls and brooms. Born into the lowest caste
in society, these women face discrimination, but one non-governmental
organization is helping them to create better lives while solving the
problem of poor sanitation. VOA U.N. correspondent Margaret Besheer has
the story written by intern Maha Saad.
Continuing an ancient
tradition in India, most lower caste women work as scavengers after
marriage. They simply follow in the footsteps of their female relatives.
Nanda, a 27-year-old woman from the northwest Indian state of
Rajasthan, worked as a scavenger for nine years. Every day she removed
the waste, transporting it in a bowl carried on her head. "It was a
very dirty job. We never liked it. We were always suffering from some
kind of diseases and things like that-no respect in the society. And
it was very degrading. We never wanted to do that," she said,
describing her past life
With the help of Bindeshwar Pathak, the
founder of the Sulabh International Social Service Organization, one of
India's largest NGOs, women like Laxmi no longer do this work. Sulabh
retrains the women so they can find other work doing embroidery or
making noodles and pickles.
A lack of infrastructure forces many
people, particularly in rural areas, to defecate in public. This
continues the need for women to clean up. But Pathak has developed
affordable and environmentally friendly toilets, distributing more than
a million of them across India and freeing many women from scavenging.
of the technologies, now they are not required to clean human excreta
manually and they have [been] relieved from this occupation. These two
technologies have brought tremendous change in the Indian society. Now
they have become self-employed, empowered, [and] they earn their own
livelihood," Pathak said.
He says that these women are now a part of mainstream society holding dignified jobs.
Sulabh's center, the women are given clean, new blue saris. Lalta
Nanda, a 32-year-old woman from Alwar, says her sari has given her and
other women status. "This blue sari gives us respect in our society.
This is the uniform of the center, but it brings on respect in the eyes
of the people. This gives off our identity, that we are someone," she
Pathak says Sulabh has improved sanitation and decreased
some diseases, installing toilets in homes and public places. "The
toilets are being built both in urban areas, rural areas, and in public
places, tourist places, religious places. When we started, millions of
children used to die due to diarrhea, dehydration, cholera. Now the
number has gone down to half a million."
In addition to its work in India, Sulabh currently has projects in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal.