Event@CCF: Film screening of ‘Kakkoos’

While the 2017 documentary presented the stark reality of manual scavengers in Tamil Nadu, the subsequent discussion, with the lawyer and human rights activist Albertina Almeida, and the architect Tallulah D’Silva, provided insight on way-forward action in Goa.

 

Have you ever wondered what happens after you flush your toilet? In urban India, we rely on the government to contain, manage and, if we are overly optimistic, treat our sewerage. But we (should) know better: we depend on, and exploit by complicity, a section of society to literally clean up our mess. The documentary ‘Kakkoos’, directed by activist Divya Bharathi, unforgivingly holds up a mirror to our actions.

The 2013 ‘Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation’ Act has defined ‘manual scavenger’ as:

“a person engaged or employed, at the commencement of this Act or at any time thereafter, by an individual or local authority or an agency or a contractor, for manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of, or otherwise handling in any manner, human excreta in an insanitary latrine or in an open drain or pit into which the human excreta from the insanitary latrines is disposed of, or on a railway track or in such other spaces or premises, as the Central Government of a State Government may notify, before the excreta fully decomposes in such manner as may be prescribed…”

Manual scavenging has been officially banned since 1993, with the ban being reinforced with the 2013 Act. But the 109-minute documentary, which focusses on manual scavenging in Tamil Nadu, sheds light on a grim reality by detailing the plight of manual scavengers and their families in a casteist society.

Capture.JPGStill from the film: Improvement of the economic status of manual scavengers is prevented by a deep-rooted casteist prejudice. (credits: Divya Bharathi)

According to the ENVIS Centre on Hygiene, Sanitation, Sewage Treatment Systems and Technology, the Central Government counts 53,000 manual scavengers in India. The film argues otherwise: due to open defecation, even street garbage collectors face the humiliating task of collecting excreta almost every day. Since they are provided gloves, they are not labelled ‘manual scavengers’ and thus cannot be protected by the law.

Daily-wage labourers employed for cleaning railway tracks, septic tanks, manholes and small-town open sewers also face the same prejudice. The blatant exploitation of labourers is bigger than a casteist problem; it is a socio-economic issue where the poor, usually the women and the aged of marginalised sections of society, are forced into manual scavenging labour.

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Still from the film: Though they clean the sewers of the city, manual scavengers are forced to live in slums without access to clean sanitation. (credits: Divya Bharathi)

The film inspired viewers to begin an animated discussion on important takeaways and the steps going forward. Led by Albertina Almeida and Tallulah D’Silva, various ideas were discussed for individuals and the community to take up.

Tallulah, an architect who is passionate about sustainable solutions, noted the significance of zero-waste dry toilets and suggested a lifestyle change with their use. She urged the audience to rethink the default flushing system, which mixes excreta with water thus creating the need for septic tanks, which inherently depend on manual scavenging. An important takeaway was the changes that the architecture community can catalyse by practice, such as a DIY dry toilet kit, which uses sand and sunlight to break down excreta. CCF will collaborate with Tallulah to organise a workshop on making dry toilets in the foreseeable future.

Albertina, a lawyer and human rights activist, emphasised the need for a statewide manual scavenger survey with self-registration booths in Goa to understand the magnitude of the issue. As a society, to bring the issue to the forefront of political concern—which forces politicians to bank on the interests of the marginalised society—is the way forward.

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As individuals, what steps should we take to address and solve the problem? Comment below to let us know!

Those interested in the film may view it here on YouTube.

 

Read more about manual scavenging here:

Riverfront proposal in Panaji: development or demise?

The CCF team takes a closer look at the Panaji riverfront development proposal.

 

Rivers have long been the backbone of human settlements for many reasons: fertile floodplains, irrigation, and transportation. With the pressure of urbanisation, riverfronts across the world have come to represent open public space in otherwise dense cities. Today, Riverfront Development projects are viewed as a “means of economic and cultural growth, and are dominated by commerce and recreation to create a thriving and continuous public realm.” (Yadav, n.d.)

Under the Smart Cities Mission, many cities have taken up riverfront projects, some of which are budgeted over 100 crores:

Name of the project City Budget (crores)
Reinvigoration of Vishwamitri Riverfront Influence Area Vadodara 508
Riverfront Development Shivamogga 421
Ganga Riverfront Development Kanpur 125
Gomti Riverfront Development Lucknow 113
Goda-Riverfront Development Nashik 110

(Smart Cities Mission GOI, 2016)

What is the money being utilised for? Upon closer inspection, the projects amount to little more than the promotion of recreational and commercial activities on riverfronts which “typically include promenades, boat trips, shopping, petty shops, restaurants, theme parks, walkways and even parking lots in the encroached river bed.” (SANDRP 2014.) ‘Riverfront development’ has been reduced to, and is used interchangeably with, ‘river beautification’.

In Panaji, the Smart City Proposal calls for an “Improved riverfront development along the Mandovi river (landscaping near Cruise jetty), soil conservation measures and beautification of open spaces and bridges.”

 

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A recent news article lists initiatives along Rua de Ourem creek

According to recent news articles featured in Goa Today (Gomantak, Marathi) and Times of India, the proposal has been further elaborated into the following initiatives:

  • Redevelopment of the Santa Monica Jetty with seating, viewpoints and food stalls;
  • A foot bridge connecting the Santa Monica Jetty to the old PWD building near the Patto bridge;
  • A “Welcome Centre” in place of the old PWD building near Patto bridge;
  • Extension of the existing footpath lining Rua de Ourem creek, behind the Central Library;
  • A 1.6-km walking path overlooking the creek near the People’s High School;
  • Cleaning of the creek “without destroying the ecosystem”;
  • Boating facility along the creek (the depth of the creek will be increased along the route);
  • Providing CCTV cameras “at required locations” to stop people from throwing trash.

The proposal has been promised within 18 months after the 2019 elections.

Based on the limited information, the CCF team’s first reaction is to question the environmental impact of the project: the long-term viability of the cleaning of the creek is unclear with the introduction of tourist-drawing boating facility. There is no mention of addressing the inevitable negative environmental impact of such tourist-centric initiatives. With the “redevelopment” of Santa Monica Jetty, the proposal seems unlikely to become anything more than a make-up treatment of Mandovi river.

What will be the true cost of such a project? In the past, many waterfront projects have blatantly violated many environmental laws of the land, thereby setting many local species protection projects back by years. Fauna and avifauna along the edges of water bodies face threat under such economically-motivated schemes.

In the face of such a trend, the key takeaway for citizens is that there should be an informed awareness of the riverfront or waterfront project in the city. Looking beyond the attractive sheen of promised recreational activity is important to question the environmental, cultural and social ramifications of the proposal.

The South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) has called for restoration of rivers rather than beautification, concretisation, channeling or encroachment. A credible early-design-stage citizen participatory process, with an efficient mechanism for suggestions and objections, will strengthen the city’s backing of a well-designed programme (in a resounding example, effective implementation in the Netherlands has accounted for river water dynamics, erosion and sedimentation process, and the tides).

Factoring in ecological measures doesn’t have to dissolve citizens’ connection to the creek, or the river: if anything, experiencing the waterscape will only be enhanced by the protection of the water bodies. Isn’t that what Development is about?

 

Read more on Riverfront Development projects here:

Trend of Riverfront Development projects in India:
https://sandrp.in/2014/11/03/goda-park-riverfront-development-project-violation-of-court-order-and-destruction-of-fertile-riparian-zone/

Citizens’ action- Open letter to the Secretary, MOEF:
https://counterview.org/2016/01/09/cease-vadodaras-vishwamitri-riverfront-development-project-till-environmental-clearance-or-face-legal-action/

Netherlands’ Room for the River Programme:
https://www.riob.org/en/file/259093/download?token=L7PIEzs0

 

References:

SANDRP. 2014. “Riverfront Development in India: Cosmetic make up on deep wounds”. Accessed 2nd March 2019.
https://sandrp.in/2014/09/17/riverfront-development-in-india-cosmetic-make-up-on-deep-wounds/

Smart Cities Mission GOI. 2016. “List of Projects of Rs. 100 crore and above as per SCPs of 60 Smart Cities”. Accessed 2nd March 2019. http://smartcities.gov.in/upload/uploadfiles/files/List_of_Projects_60_Cities.pdf

Yadav, Vriddhi. n.d., “Riverfront Development in Indian Cities: The Missing Link.” Academia 1-6. https://www.academia.edu/32219232/Riverfront_Development_in_Indian_Cities_The_Missing_Link.