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In a tragic incident, a sweeper in Karnataka's Mandya district died by suicide on Tuesday, February 23, three months after being allegedly forced to clean the manhole with his bare hands by the municipal council officials.
In his suicide note, 37-year-old Narayana blamed the Maddur town municipality's top officials for harassing him to declare that he had voluntarily undergone cleaning the manhole without safety gear. The officials had forced him to clean the manhole without gloves, mask or other cleaning equipment, reported The Times of India.
After the incident of manual scavenging made headlines in the media, the city administration ordered an inquiry against the officials and City Municipal Council (CMC) President Suresh Kumar, as named in the suicide note. The deceased also named the chief officer, Murugesh, and the health inspector, Ghasim Khan, in his note.
The victim was being hounded since November 2020. A case has been registered against the accused under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and abetment to suicide.
The officials also withheld Narayana's salary for months and placed him under suspension for petty reasons after he refused to take responsibility, his colleagues told the media.
The deceased's body was taken before the CMC after the autopsy, where sweepers staged a protest, alleging apathy by officials. The officials have received massive flak for harassing the victim for over three months.
Karnataka Urban Local Bodies' Outsource Employees Union (KULBEOU) held the administration responsible for not taking immediate legal action against the erring officers and the CMC president, claiming that Narayana would have been alive if appropriate action was taken.
The union called for a strike on February 26, demanding action against the officials involved in Narayana's harassment. The strike might become indefinite if the police don't conduct a proper investigation, the union added. The protesters have also demanded compensation for Narayana's family. He is survived by his wife and three children.
Despite provisions in the law, manual scavenging continues unabated in India. According to the report, the year 2019 saw the highest number of manual scavenging deaths in the past five years, with nearly 110 workers killed while cleaning sewers and septic tanks.
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