Funding from The Halcrow Foundation is helping Karuna support manual scavenger women in Madhya Pradesh, India.

Manual scavengers remove human excrement from toilets and carry it away to disposal locations, often several kilometres away. The work carries significant health risks for the workers, as well as the social stigma of ‘untouchability’ and discrimination against their families within local communities.

Thanks to support from The Halcrow Foundation and Karuna, the women are given finance and training to set up a garment and incense making cooperative. To begin with they learn basic stitching before moving on to more complex garment making. The cooperatives are supported by the social enterprise Dignity and Design which sells the women’s produce to local and national markets.

The project team working with Karuna covers the cooperative’s costs until it is profitable enough to support itself.

In 2016 the cooperative was able to sell its products at a national level through major festivals in Delhi and Lucknow. The women have also marketed and sold their products at institutes of social activism such as the Tata Institute of Social Science in Mumbai. The future is looking a lot brighter and the skills gained through the project means the women are able to provide for themselves and their families.

Karuna works with local community groups to help South Asia’s poorest people escape poverty and discrimination, and lead dignified and meaningful lives.

Story of change
Nazama Bi comes from the Haila manual scavenger community in Kutta Kholi in Madha Pradesh. When she married at 18 she ‘inherited’ her mother-in-law’s duty of cleaning dry latrines.

Forced to work, Nazama, was often sick eight to ten days of each month. During the monsoon season the rain would seep through the basket on her head which caused excrement to run down her face and body. She was paid one penny per house and given leftover food, which would be thrown at her.

With the help of The Halcrow Foundation and Karuna, Nazama has stopped cleaning dry latrines. She was pressured by the local community to continue in her role but refused, and now works with other ex-manual scavenger women in a cooperative making incense sticks. Nazama now lives a dignified life free from the stigma of untouchability, something that couldn’t have happened without funding and support from The Halcrow Foundation and Karuna.

Story of change
Women’s Cooperative Siddikgunj

Shakuntalabai, Sushilabai, Harubai and Mamtabai are four women from a group of 20 ex-manual scavenger women in the village of Siddikgunj in Sehore District, Madhya Pradesh. During the rainy season the excrement carried in baskets on their heads would run down their face and body, causing sickness and skin diseases. The nature of their work meant the women lived with the stigma of untouchability and their children faced discrimination at school.

A project team supported by Karuna and funded by The Halcrow Foundation intervened, and by attending community meetings and raising awareness, convinced the women to leave their manual scavenging work. The women came together and formed a community-based organisation called Garima Shakti Sangathan, which means ‘dignity and strength’, to help rehabilitate women manual scavengers in the community.

The Garima Shakti Sangathan women formed a small business called the Scheduled Caste Fisherwomen’s Group to give women an alternative livelihood. The group successfully applied to the district government for a licence to fish in the local lake. However they faced opposition from other groups in the community who had also applied for fishing licences but were unsuccessful. A legal challenge was launched against the granting of the licence, but the ex-manual scavenger women successfully defended themselves in court with legal support from the project team.

Thanks to funding and support from The Halcrow Foundation and Karuna, the women now run a sustainable business fishing the lake. They earn enough to live with dignity and respect and no longer face discrimination in their community.