This Retired Academician Now Treats Manual Scavengers

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This Retired Academician Now Treats Manual Scavengers

Siddhant Mohan, on how Dr R.C. Agarwal has devoted his post-retirement life to taking care of manual scavengers for free

Every day at 8 in the morning, sanitary workers of the Ghaziabad Nagar Nigam gather at a tea point in Sector 10 after cleaning the clogged sewers and drains. The sanitary workers get up at 4 am and reach different locations across the city by 5 am to clean the sewers and drains manually. As the workers converse, Dr Ramesh C Agarwal, a man in his early 70s, emerges out of an adjacent street riding an old motorbike and carrying a sling bag on his right shoulder.

All the workers get off their seats and proceed towards Dr Agarwal and help him in parking his bike. They surround him and start explaining their health complications.

“I have an itch all over my body since last few months and it is getting worse by the day,” Titu, 26, a sewer worker tells Dr Agarwal.

As soon as he briefs him about his skin problem, Dr Agarwal puts his hands inside his sling bag and pulls out a small plastic bottle containing a white power and asks him to sprinkle it across his body after taking a bath. He also gives him some pills stuffed in a small plastic bag which he has to take twice a day.

Another sewer worker Dheeraj Kumar, 25 complains of a cough. “During nights, it becomes bad,” he complains as Dr Agarwal listens carefully to the health issues of every worker. He is also given pills, which he has to take for seven days and asked to meet at the same place and same time after a week.

Dr. Agarwal giving out medicines

Dr Agarwal was born in 1947 and after completing his school education and during his bachelors, he found out that he was more interested in studying physics. He enrolled in M.Sc. Physics at I.I.T. Delhi and later did his Ph .D in solar energy from I. I.T. Delhi in 1981.

He joined as Convener, Research Degree Committee of Physics at Chaudhary Charan Singh University, Meerut and in 2011 retired as Head of Department of Physics from Multanimal Modi College, Ghaziabad, UP.

Despite being an academician, he was always interested in studying medicine. In 1992, when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, he started looking for alternate methods and medicines other than chemo and radiation therapy to get rid of the disease.

“I spent months and read many books on naturopathy, ayurvedic medicines, and homoeopathic medicines, and found that one has to increase one’s immunity power to get rid of the toxins accumulated in the body and to fight the disease-causing bacteria/viruses etc,” he said.

“After treating my wife with such medicines, I found out that they are effective and she is doing absolutely fine now.”

It was in 2016 when Dr Agarwal saw a sanitary worker getting down in sewer main hole full of human excreta and toxic waste to clear the clogged line.

“My head hung in shame and I could not sleep for a couple of days. After that I decided to do something for workers who go down in sewer lines to clean clogged sewers,” he recalls.

Manual scavengers in India work under hazardous conditions and are exposed to health risks every day

Inside the sewers, workers are continually exposed to gases like hydrogen disulfide, methane, ammonia, and carbon monoxide. Studies have linked exposure to these gases lead to cardiovascular degeneration; musculoskeletal disorders like osteoarthritis changes and intervertebral disc herniation; infections like hepatitis, leptospirosis, and Helicobacter; skin problems; respiratory system issues; and altered pulmonary function parameters.

“The manual scavengers who get down in clogged sewer lines are exposed to dangerous harmful toxic waste. Their skin and genital parts such as anus, penis etc. are exposed to dangerous toxic waste. As a result, they often catch diseases at a very early age besides they often suffer from skin and respiratory problems and in course of time their kidneys, lungs, heart liver etc. are damaged and as a result, they die at a very early age,” he observes.

For skin diseases and cough, Dr Agarwal provides homoeopathic medicines while for respiratory tract problems he provides ayurvedic medicines. Ones suffering from serious ailments are referred to government hospitals.

According to Ratendra Singh, 40, the supervisor of sewage workers, “All workers get a modest salary of Rs 7,500 per month despite doing the most filthy job in the civilized world. As they can’t afford treatment at private hospitals and cannot afford to wait at the government hospitals, the free treatment offered by Dr Agarwal is like a blessing for them.”

“If any of our sewer workers have a health issue, they call him and he treats them with homeopathic and ayurvedic medicines. Hundreds of sewage workers across consult him for their health issues,” he further said.

Dr Agarwal holding a plastic bottle containing homeopathic pills

Brijesh Kumar, 30 a sewage worker had a persistent cough since last two months, as he couldn’t afford to take leave off his work and afford the cost of medicines. He consulted Dr Agarwal who provided him free medicines. “Both private and public hospitals are out of bounds for us. In private hospitals, the cost is the factor while at govt. hospitals time is the factor.”

For Dr Agarwal, the battle is not limited to providing treatment to the sewage workers but he is also trying hard to put an end to the practice of manual scavenging in Ghaziabad city.

Earlier this year, he took the matter with the sanitary supervisor of the area and the Executive Officer of Ghaziabad Nagar Nigam and apprised them how manually cleaning the sewers is dangerous to the life and health of the worker and asked them to work on an alternative.

“They told me that they do not have an adequate number of supper suckers for mechanical cleaning of clogged sewer-lines. They also pointed out that there is some technical problem in cleaning clogged sewer-lines with mechanical suckers and pumps. This problem can only be done manually,” he told

He wrote a letter to the local officials and even sent the copies of the letter about the conditions of manual sewage workers to PM Modi, the union health minister, J Parkash Nadda, and Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, but he hasn’t heard back from any of their offices.

Dr Agarwal feels that people should stand with the sewage workers and pressure government to switch over to mechanical cleaning of the sewers and drains.

“Manual scavengers are like me or like every one of us. Why should they do such a dirty work where they have to expose their life to such health hazards?” he asks. Meanwhile, his mission to treat the sewage workers with alternate medicines continues.


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