'Stop Killing Us': Hundreds Gather in Delhi to Protest Sewer Deaths

The protest at Jantar Mantar on Tuesday. Credit: Moniza Hafizee/The Wire

New Delhi: “We shouldn’t have to share these stories, or re-live them. We don’t owe it to anyone,” Bezwada Wilson, convenor of the Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA), told a crowd gathered at Jantar Mantar on Tuesday morning. “What we deserve is dignity and self-respect, like B.R. Ambedkar had said – and that is what we are fighting for.”

Around 1,000 people, including students and activists, had gathered to protest the deaths of manual scavengers in sewers in different parts of the country. In the last two weeks, as many as six manual scavengers have lost their lives in the National Capital Region alone – five in one incident and one in another. Another five manual scavengers’ deaths were reported from Chhattisgarh.

‘Stop Killing Us’, said the large poster on stage – reiterating a point that many speakers made. “These are not deaths. These are murders. It’s a grave injustice that this is still happening,” Santosh, a daily-wage labourer from Delhi who had come to show solidarity, told The Wire.

“There can’t be more orphans because of this. There can’t be more children who lose their parents, more wives who lose their husbands, more sisters who lose their brothers. It has to stop,” Wilson said as the crowd clapped. “Nowadays the government says so much about ‘Swachh Bharat’ – but it doesn’t have a word to say about manual scavengers. We are not asking them for money! We are asking for basic human rights.”