The Human Dignity Argument against Manual Scavenging in India
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In this article, we argue that manual scavenging and the 2013 Act which prohibits it are unconstitutional as they violate human dignity, the prohibition against untouchability, and the right to life enshrined in the Constitution of India. We bring out contradictions and limitations in the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on manual scavenging and show that it misses out on deploying its own strong anti-untouchability and human dignity-based jurisprudence in the judicial treatment of manual scavenging. This progressive jurisprudence outlaws all forms of social exclusion and does not allow for any exceptions to the right to human dignity. We then propose a framework which outlines the unconstitutionality of the very practice of manual scavenging through an in-depth and conjoint analysis of the Indian constitutional jurisprudence on prohibition untouchability, right to human dignity and right to life. A conjoint reading of the three principles brings out the real potential of the Indian Constitution in safeguarding the rights of manual scavengers, a feat which must begin with a complete abolition of all forms of scavenging work without exception. Arguing against the acceptability of allegedly “safe” sanitation work, we propose an alternative framework to understand and critique manual scavenging, without which a complete eradication of manual scavenging is impossible.
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