Beneath the city’s shining facade, discrimination and death in the sewers : an analysis of India’s right to life obligations to eradicate the caste-based practice of hazardous manual sewer cleaning

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Kali, Yamuna
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Loss of life resulting from manual sewer cleaning has been a tragic constant in urban India for decades, and its connection with caste and ‘untouchability’ has been an accepted fact, with the victims overwhelmingly belonging to the most oppressed castes. Still, there has been little progress towards addressing this issue, with no reduction in the number of people losing their lives in this way every year. Legislation and schemes aimed at ending the practice of manual sewer cleaning have had little success. This thesis approaches the issue as a violation of the right to life under Article 6(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Such an analysis would be incomplete without an awareness of the societal role of caste in the perpetuation of the problem. Therefore, this thesis also attempts to address the discriminatory aspect of the issue through an analysis of obligations under Article 2(1) of the Covenant. Through an interdisciplinary approach that draws on historical and legal research methods, it is found that while the State has made several attempts to address the issue of manual sewer cleaning, there is weight to the argument that India is in fact violating Article 6(1), by failing to end the occurrence of death due to manual sewer cleaning, as well as Article 2(1) in conjunction with Article 6(1), due to the caste-based nature of the practice leading to a distinct violation of the right to life.
Second semester University: Åbo Akademi University. Awarded thesis 2022/2023
India, right to life, caste system, urban areas, discrimination