research institute for compassionate economics

Open defecation: Manual scavenging’s legacy in rural India

Diane Coffey, Payal Hathi, on February 15th, 2019

Manual scavenging is caste-based work which has been handed down over generations, subjecting the same families and communities to deep humiliation, social exclusion, and poor health. This book chapter argues that same casteist attitudes that relegate Dalits to the filthy work of manual scavenging are at the root of many Indians’ distaste for the simple pit latrines that the government is promoting in its campaign to eliminate open defecation.

The association between handling faeces and the social stigma that manual scavenging castes have borne for centuries means that most Indians today are unwilling to empty their own latrine pits/tanks. As more and more Dalits turn away from the humiliation of manual scavenging work, there are fewer people who are willing to empty a latrine pit, making open defecation seem like a better option for many households. Without confronting and resisting the casteism that allows manual scavenging to persist, it will be difficult to make meaningful progress on tackling India’s sanitation challenges.

Published: Book Chapter       Geography: India

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