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Breaking Free: From Manual Scavenging to Fish Farming

Story by UN India August 4th, 2014

Manual scavenging refers to the practice of manually cleaning, carrying, disposing or handling in any manner, human excreta from dry latrines and sewers. Since 1993, key legislations have been enacted prohibiting employment of people as manual scavengers, banning the construction of dry latrines and providing rehabilitation . Yet, a significant proportion of an estimated 2.6 million dry latrines in India continue to be cleaned manually. In the picture below, a woman collects human excreta from one such household latrine pit.

photo credit : Jan Sahas


Manual scavengers belong to some of the poorest, most vulnerable and marginalized groups. Many of them are Dalits, a group of people traditionally regarded as untouchables.

photo credit : Jan Sahas

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The recent laws are bringing about a slow but definite change. In Siddigunj village in the state of Madhya Pradesh, a group of women erstwhile manual scavengers formed a self-help group for a more dignified and financially sustainable livelihood. In 2013, the United Nations Development Programme supported the collective in leasing out a pond from the local authorities to start fish farming.

photo credit : Ishan Tankha / UNDP India


Over the last year, the women have employed men to fish and sell the catch in the local market. The enterprise has raised their income five fold to almost USD 70 a month per person.

photo credit : Ishan Tankha / UNDP India


Forty five year old Sushila Bai is a widow and former manual scavenger. “The little we have made since the pond was leased has made a big difference,” she says. The economic empowerment has helped the women and their families live a life of dignity and address issues of discrimination collectively. Women like Sushila Bai have ensured that their children are no longer discriminated against at school.

photo credit : Ishan Tankha / UNDP India


Enthused with the success of fish farming, the women are diversifying into other areas. Many like Kiran Bai, pictured above with her daughter-in-law Rani have started to rear goat and chicken. The dignity of their new professions have helped to eliminate stigma and discrimination against the liberated manual scavengers. For the first time in the memory of the people of the Siddigunj, the village is now free of manual scavenging.

photo credit : Ishan Tankha / UNDP India