Project description

India is on a relentless march towards economic growth, and understandably is the toast of the world for the remarkable turnaround in growth it has engineered over the last few decades.

However, this bright and positive picture also hides some inconvenient truths, the worst of them being manual scavenging.

Manual scavenging, although abolished by law, continues to be practiced in parts of the country. It involves, as the name indicates, manually removing untreated human excreta from bucket toilets or pit latrines, and is a dehumanizing practice that remains the preserve of a few castes considered to rank lowest in the Hindu hierarchy.

Manual scavenging involves removing the excreta using brooms and tin plates, into baskets, which the workers carry to disposal locations which are sometimes several kilometers away, the workers toiling with rarely any personal protective equipment.

Manual scavenging was also prevalent in Europe once but unlike in India it was not specifically linked to a caste nor was it called manual scavenging; the workers were called “nightsoil collectors” or “night men”. The contemporary term for safe night soil collection is fecal sludge management.

In India manual scavenging is traditionally practiced by members of the Balmiki or Hela subcaste among Dalits. Moreover, it is done with basic tools like thin boards and buckets or baskets lined with jute and carried on the head.

Due to the unsanitary nature of the job, many of the workers suffer from health problems.

What makes this project innovative?

Like everyone else we at Rediff Labs were also involved in executing many positive stories about India, when our attention was drawn to the continuance of this unhealthy and outlawed practice, making us realize that it was time to use data to hold a mirror to the society we come from.

We sourced the census data to see whether manual scavenging was still practiced in India, and learned that it was still prevalent in some districts despite being outlawed.

We took the number of manual scavengers from the 2011 Census of India data released by the Government of India and visualized the same on our map, after categorizing the number of manual scavengers.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

The readership for this article ranged more than a lakh and still counting

Source and methodology

Rediff Labs analyzed the 2011 socio-economic caste census data for the number of manual scavengers in India. The number of manual scavengers was given district-wise, and we found that of the 630 Indian districts for which data was available, 149 districts have no manual scavengers, while the remaining 484 districts have at least one manual scavenger.
The top five districts with a high number of manual scavengers are Jalna, Yavatmal, Solapur (all in Maharashtra), the Union territory of Daman and Diu, and Amritsar in Punjab.

Technologies Used

Microsoft Excel for data analysis, Rediff own maps platform based on OpenStreetMap for visualization

Project members

Gagan Bansal, Maps Architect


Project owner administration

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