Indian Odyssey


This website tells you about our journey of discovery as well-wishers of the families from manual scavenger backgrounds.


This painting by Nisjit Moses is called “The Manual Scavenger”.  It depicts a woman carrying a basket of human excrement on her head.  The excrement is from a latrine which she has cleaned by hand.

Eradicating Manual Scavenging

In India, caste has traditionally defined occupation and in the constitution ‘untouchability’ is proscribed.  However, manual scavenging (the cleaning of latrines, sewers and cess pits by hand) and other sanitation related occupations remain the work of one sub-group of the dalit community.  They are considered to be the untouchables among untouchables because of their work.


For the last 30 years, Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA, sanitation workers movement) has been advocating for the eradication of manual scavenging.  Legislation has been enacted that makes the dehumanising task of manual scavenging illegal. A National rehabilitation scheme exists to help manual scavengers change their occupations.


There is an urgent need for ‘dignified sanitation technologies’ that would eliminate the need for manual scavenging.


Photo of boy entering manhole (from ‘Safai Karmachari Andolan’ facebook page)

Towards Dignified Sanitation

10 years ago, the greatest number of manual scavengers were employed to clear the railway tracks of excrement from the train toilets.  Targets were set to convert toilets on carriages gradually over 15 years until 2025. It seemed like it would never happen! But steady progress has been made. The new design for train toilets is to empty into a kind of septic tank rather than directly onto the tracks. Waste water overflows from the tank and pours onto the gravel of the tracks in a steady stream using the railway tracks rather like a nation-sized trickle filter. When the tanks are filled, they are emptied (presumably by machines) at maintenance depots.  Already the railway tracks are cleaner and train station platforms are more pleasant places to wait. And, the job of the manual scavengers employed on India’s Railways is much improved.

In 2016, the Government of India gave environmental sanitation much importance through the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (clean India initiative). Prior to that 50% of people in India were defaecating in the open. The programme aimed for India to be ‘open defaecation free’ by 2nd October 2019.  That didn’t happen but the number of households with access to toilets has increased by an impressive 30%.

To some extent, the programme did promote ‘sanitary latrine’ technologies that ‘safely confine human faeces and eliminates the need of human handling before it is fully decomposed’. However, in many places, the toilets being constructed were of the single pit latrine type, which in all likelihood will require the services of manual scavengers to empty.

One dignified sanitation option with lots of potential is ‘simplified sewerage’: i.e. household toilets – linked to simplified (piped) sewerage – treated in a large settlement tank – waste water discharged into a constructed wetland.  A system like this would be cheap to install, easy to maintain and remove the need for the manual handling of faeces or sludge.  This technology is widely used in other countries (especially in South America) and has proved to be highly effective.

Find out more by clicking the links below:

Latrine types and their impact on manual scavenging


Researchers at Heriot Watt University has recently been looking at the viability of simplified sewerage systems (dignified sanitation) for a small low-income community in South India.  The Journal of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Development published their work in November 2017.  For more information contact


There are also some new inventions for cleaning of sewer lines and pits with mechanical equipment including robots, such as the ‘Sewer Croc’® developed by

And some new chemical engineering solutions such as ‘Biologic’® developed by

For more ideas and information please contact us.

Community Transformation

Community transformation is a slow process, one in which the community members are empowered to make decisions that could improve their lives and destinies. Sometimes those decisions may be at odds with what others want for them. Sometimes the most empowering option is not to participate at all.


Identifying a problem is the first stage in community transformation, but not all members of the community may see the situation as a problem.  Communities are not homogeneous and there may be many different views and perspectives.  Promoting discussion and choice among the community members plays a major role.  For this, any outsider needs to build trust – and this takes time.


Any development work, whether it is sanitation, health promotion, education or whatever, must be something that some people in the community actually want.  Problems occur when community members have not been adequately consulted in the decision making process and investments are wasted. It is only when agreement has been reached with a household or community that an idea can be taken forward, perhaps even to local government for approval.


There are many methods to engage the community in the consultation process, for example, mapping, discussions, drawing, voting.  Some of these methods are time consuming and people may simply tell you their views without ‘wasting their time’ doing the exercises.


It is important to meet with different sub-groups of the community to get their opinions – such as the elderly, middle-aged, youth, men, women, boys, girls, different caste and non-caste groups, different socio-economic groups.  In this way the different voices can be heard distinctively.  Sometimes they will all agree and sometimes they may have different viewpoints.  All are valid.


If you are interested in helping any particular community, go and meet them, talk to them, make friends with them and spend time with them: let them shape the agenda, and take it from there.

Angus and Joy

We met in Nepal and worked in international development in south Asia and Africa for 20 years, particularly on sanitation and hygiene.  We were very unhappily married until 2006 when Angus was born again and Jesus transformed our lives.  In 2009 we read a newspaper article entitled ‘Coffee and cake are a recipe of hope for India’s Dalits’. It was about some young women from a manual scavenger community who were trained to run a coffee shop.  This was a much better job than they ever dreamed possible. We were deeply impacted and believed God was calling us to go to the poor and needy in India, specifically to the sanitation workers.


“He lifts up the poor and needy.  He takes the beggar from the dung-heap, He sets them among princes and makes them inherit His throne of glory.”  1 Samuel 2:8


Just as Jesus has transformed our marriage and our lives, we believe that He can transform the lives of anyone who is struggling in any way.