NEW DELHI: The Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA) has called for a nationwide apology from the prime minister as the death toll in sewer and septic tank cleaning incidents reaches 100 citizens. Today marks the 379th day of SKA’s nationwide StopKillingUs campaign, calling for immediate government action to prevent these tragic deaths. The continuing death toll sheds light on the caste-based exploitation and untouchability prevailing in India and reveals the government’s apathy and insensitivity to the issue.
A press release from the organization, signed by Bezwada Wilson, the country chair, said the SKA has been actively protesting and demanding accountability from the government since the launch of the nationwide #StopKillingUs campaign on May 11 last year. Despite their continued efforts, the ruling government has maintained a shameful and criminal silence. Shockingly, deaths continue to occur within the community, underscoring the government’s disregard for the lives lost in these unfortunate incidents.
The SKA emphasizes that according to the constitution every citizen of India has the right to a dignified life. However, this basic right is systematically denied to the Safai Karmacharis, who are mainly active in the field of sewage disposal. The #StopKillingUs campaign aims to put an end to these deaths and eradicate the brutal practice of untouchability and caste violence. In a show of solidarity, the community has come together and raised their voice against this injustice with the slogan #JaiBhim, paying homage to Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar, the architect of India’s constitution.
The alarming reality is that over 2000 Safai Karamcharis have lost their lives cleaning sewers and septic tanks in India. Despite the 2014 Supreme Court ruling that specifically banned individuals from entering such hazardous environments, violations of that ruling continue to occur across the country on a daily basis. In 2013, Parliament also passed the Manual Scavenging (Prohibition) Act, which bans the employment of people in the cleaning of human waste without protective measures. Yet parishioners continue to die in the sewers and tanks filled with human waste, raising questions about the government’s inaction and its ingrained casteist mindset.
These murders not only devastate the families of the deceased, but also plunge them into severe economic crises. The Safai Karamchari community, already marginalized by the caste system, suffers even more as their children’s future prospects are destroyed. Government indifference to community challenges is fueling the anger behind the #StopKillingUs campaign. The community has mobilized across the country, from Kashmir to Kerala and from Delhi to Kanyakumari, demanding a simple plea: stop killing them.
The SKA finds the government’s deafening silence on this issue unbearable. They remain resolute in the fight against caste abuse and vow to continue their democratic struggle. For the past 40 years, SKA has worked tirelessly to eliminate the practice of manual flushing and is now calling for necessary action to prevent further deaths in sewage pits.
Among the SKA’s key demands is a nationwide apology from the Prime Minister for the sewer and septic tank killings and historic injustice suffered by the Safai Karmachari community. They are also demanding disclosure of data on Indian citizens who have lost their lives in such incidents since the Manual Scavenging (Prohibition) Act 1993 came into force. In addition, the SKA seeks to hold government officials accountable for these deaths, with responsibility falling to the district judge of each county. They are also demanding a comprehensive special package that includes dignified government jobs outside of sanitation, guaranteed free education for children, pensions for widows and parents, and housing and health care for victims’ families.
The SKA notes that previous government surveys have failed to eliminate manual cleaning because none of the deceased listed in the SKA records were included. That is why they are calling for a new survey that includes all Safai Karmaccharis. Finally, the organization insists that the government set a deadline to end these killings in sewers and septic tanks, as securing the right to life should be the government’s top priority.
The Safai Karmachari Andolan’s tireless efforts and calls for justice have garnered national attention, urging the government to urgently address the issue and take concrete steps to eliminate these preventable deaths.