Breaking Margins Campaign

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On 10 December 2012 - Human Rights Day - PACS launched its "Breaking Margins" campaign to end the horrific practice of manual scavenging. The campaign was launched with a photo exhibition and panel discussion at the British Council Library in New Delhi and, through the work of partner Jan Sahas, PACS has since liberated 2400 manual scavengers in 8 districts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

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What was the PACS Breaking Margins campaign?

The PACS Breaking Margins campaign was launched with a photo exhibition (see gallery above) and panel discussion at the British Council Library in New Delhi on 10 December 2012 - International Human Rights Day.

The theme of Human Rights Day 2012 was "social inclusion" and the PACS event aimed to raise awareness about the practice of manual scavening that still continues, despite being illegal, and the deep social exclusion that manual scavenging communities face.

Union Minister for Rural Development, Mr. Jairam Ramesh, attended the event. "Let me say how anguishing it is for an Indian to see what must be one of the most shameful practices in India. 65 years after Independence, it still continues," he said in his keynote address. “We are committed to end manual scavenging and the stigma that it creates based on caste discrimination. The government is in the process of enacting a law which will have much stronger provisions.”

Following the success of the exhibition, PACS supported a campaign run by partner Jan Sahas in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh aiming to:

  • Motivate, capacitate and support 2400 manual scavengers to be liberated from manual scavenging, and pursue alternative livelihoods.
  • Ensure that 60% of these liberated manual scavengers benefit from various government rehabilitation schemes.
  • Eliminate discriminatory practices relating to untouchability and social exclusion in public places in 60% of villages and towns in the targeted districts.
  • Organise liberated manual scavengers to form Community Based Organisations (CBOs) to support each other, advocate for their rights under various laws and schemes, and motivate other single women who are still involved in manual scavenging to leave the practice.
  • Advocate for increased government participation and accountability to address the issue of manual scavenging and implement the current Acts, Schemes and Policies for the liberation and rehabilitation of manual scavengers.

Jan Sahas has been working since 2002 to end the practice of manual scavenging as part of the Rashtriya Garima Abhiyaan (National Diginity Campaign), liberating manual scavengers in four states of India, helping them to stop the practice and find alternative sources of income.

What has been the impact of the Breaking Margins campaign?

The process of liberation often takes a long time. It first involves changing the mindset of the manual scavengers themselves. "Attitudes are not going to change easily," says Anil Dholpuria – Programme Coordinator for Jan Sahas. "We ask women to work with us so that, together, we can bring about real and fundamental change."

The multidimensional campaign strategy of Jan Sahas focused on challenging and changing the attitude of various stakeholders (including upper caste members and government officials) towards manual scavengers.

"We realised that the single most important factor preventing women from stopping work as manual scavengers was the attitude of society towards them" explains Jyoti – another Jan Sahas staff member who carried out the baseline survey in the project areas. "Most people we spoke to wrinkled their noses in disgust and said they were reluctant to mix with people from lower castes, like the Valmikis. This is the crux of the problem."

However, despite the challenges, 2400 manual scavengers have been freed from this outdated and despicable practice, including:

Vimla"Every time I made up my mind to quit, the pressures of providing for the family overcame my resolve and I found myself at work the next day. Today, I have got my dignity back."
Anti"I sometimes stare at my hands in wonder because they are so clean – no stench of faeces stuck on them, no nauseating sight or smell of human waste anywhere."
Sangeeta"Every day, my tiny tea stall buzzes with a thousand conversations, and I just love to be in the middle of it all!"

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