People who had performed the degrading practice hailed the decision, saying it will help them lead a dignified life.
Passed by parliament on September 7 during the monsoon session, the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, provides for the prohibition of employment as manual scavengers, rehabilitation of manual scavengers and their families, among others.
Soni Walia, 21, from Nekpur village in Uttar Pradesh, who used to practice manual scavenging until a year ago, welcomed the enforcement of the act.
"We will now be able to send our children to school. Earlier people did not even come close to us. We were not even allowed to stand at shops. While buying vegetables, we could not pick the vegetables on our own, because the ones we touched were considered bad," she said.
Walia, who hardly attended school herself, says that she started accompanying her mother, also a manual scavenger, from the age of 11.
"My mother got me admission in a school, but I could hardly attend two classes. The moment the other children saw me, they used to call my mother's work 'bad' and tease me. It was unbearable," she said.
Priyanka Devi, 24, says: "The family I got married into practices manual scavenging. I was lucky to have never done it. However, we faced the stigma. We used to remain sick, owing to the nature of the work."
"I am glad this Act is finally coming into effect," she said.
Under the Act, constructing or maintaining an insanitary latrine, or engaging or employing a person to work as a manual scavenger are offences.
It also prohibits people from engaging or employing someone for the hazardous task of cleaning a sewer or a septic tank.Welcoming the law, Vinod Sarwan, general secretary of the Rashtriya Safai Mazdoor Congress, said: "If the government implements the Act, trains manual scavengers in alternate livelihood skills, then this is a much-wanted step taken."
"I hope this goes a long way in helping helping the community lead a dignified life," he said
The Act also ensures a comprehensive rehabilitation of the manual scavengers within a time-bound framework.