TIME Syria

American Extremist Killed Fighting for ISIS Terrorists

Douglas Mcauthur McCain Facebook

A woman who said she was Douglas McAuthur McCain's aunt confirmed that he had "passed"

The battle in itself seemed tragically normal. Two Syrian opposition groups fought and there were heavy casualties on both sides. Then victorious rebels rifled through the pockets of the dead. One contained about $800 in cash — and an American passport.

Douglas McAuthur McCain, of San Diego was killed over the weekend fighting for the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), according to the Free Syrian Army. Photos of McCain’s passport and of his body — which feature a distinctive neck tattoo — have been seen by NBC News.

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News.

TIME Infectious Disease

How Fear and Ignorance is Helping Ebola Spread

Overly cautious companies and governments are hindering the flow of help to afflicted regions

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa has amassed 2,600 cases and claimed more than 1,400 lives, spreading fear and rumors about the illness around the globe — which may be making things worse.

Some overly cautious airlines and shipping companies are stopping service to infected areas, so aid can’t get in to help. Overzealous governments have also imposed city-wide quarantines and closed borders, so patients find it difficult to seek help.

The World Health Organization continues to try to educate regional governments and firms about the virus, but until the UN agency can reverse the flow of disinformation, Ebola will continue to spread.

TIME Infectious Disease

Ebola’s Untold Tragedy: Foreign Families Are Fleeing

The exodus of industry and families from West Africa could have severe implications

Health care is dire in Ebola-affected countries in West Africa. But one of the lesser recognized tragedies is the fact that international families—families of diplomats, missionaries or business people—have fled the country either by choice or at strong recommendation from their homeland. If they don’t return, some fear that their exodus could cripple the countries’ growing economies.

“The health situation in terms of direct risk of infection [for the average person] is really not that bad, but its effects are immense,” says Jeff Trudeau, the director of The American International School of Monrovia (AISM), which has lost well over half of its expected students for the start of the 2014 school year, and has delayed its start date to October. Right now, he’s only 50% confident they will open then.

In Liberia, the government closed public schools. Private schools are subject to fewer regulations and some remain open. However, even if AISM wanted to open on time, it simply no longer has students to fill its chairs. AISM and similar international schools in West Africa cater to kids who come from countries with specific educational standards, typically children of missionary families, diplomats, and international businesses. Last year, 16 embassies were represented at the international school in Liberia.

Closed schools are a serious problem for children’s education, but closures in countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone have implications even beyond lost learning opportunities. Trudeau says the country of Liberia, where he lives, has greatly improved in terms of economy and industry in the last few years. Two years ago, AISM only had 70 students, but as the school season neared this August, AISM was expecting to welcome 150. Trudeau says his school has also lost 20% of its teachers.

“Liberia entered a period of prosperity, and we grew last year,” says Trudeau. It’s reflective of how things improved security-wise and economically. Parents felt comfortable bringing their kids to Liberia.”

Trudeau says that if the school can’t open in October, and doesn’t open until, say, January, they will probably have fewer than 50 students. The other students will, by that time, likely have enrolled in other schools in their home countries or elsewhere.

Similar U.S. Embassy-funded schools in Sierra Leone and Guinea are also struggling. The American international school in Sierra Leone remains closed, and though the school in Guinea is open, it has only 50 students—a 50% reduction in their expected class.

In the wake of the outbreak, kids are left without parents and people are dying of otherwise preventable diseases due to lack of medical attention, Doctors Without Borders has written in TIME. So far, Ebola has infected 2,615, killing 1,427. But the aftermath won’t simply be a clean-up, but also a catch-up—to gain back the momentum they made in the last few years.

“There are three things a country needs to be successful: security, health care, and education,” says Trudeau. “Education is our direct responsibility. If we can attract top-quality people to return to Liberia, we can help them rebuild and restore. Unfortunately, without health care, you can see how quickly this is lost. No matter how well you’ve done in security and education, without health care, it doesn’t work.”

TIME Australia

An Australian MP Says Sorry for Calling Chinese Officials ‘Mongrels’ and ‘Bastards’

House Of Representatives Question Time
Leader of the Palmer United Party Clive Palmer during Question Time at Parliament House on July 15, 2014 in Canberra, Australia. Stefan Postles—Getty Images

And says he looks forward to "greater peace and understanding in the future"

Australian legislator and mining tycoon Clive Palmer has “most sincerely” apologized for a blistering attack on the Chinese government, reports the BBC.

During a live debate shown last week by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the 60-year-old billionaire — whose own Palmer United Party holds the balance of power in Australia’s Senate — slammed Chinese officials as “bastards” and “mongrels” who “shoot their own people.”

“They’re communist, they shoot their own people, they haven’t got a justice system and they want to take over this country,” he said at the time. “The Chinese government wants to bring workers here to destroy our wage system … they want to take over our ports and get our resources for free … I don’t mind standing up against the Chinese bastards and stopping them from doing it.”

China is Australia’s top trading partner, and Palmer’s tirade prompted a fierce backlash in a state-linked Chinese newspaper, the Global Times.

His remarks were also criticized by other Australian politicians. “Mr. Palmer’s comments are offensive, they are unnecessary, and it’s unacceptable for a Member of Parliament to make such comments, particularly on a national television program,” said Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on the radio.

In a letter to the Chinese ambassador revealed Tuesday, Palmer said, “I regret any hurt or anguish such comments may have caused any party and I look forward to greater peace and understanding in the future.”

TIME Ukraine

Rice Slams Moscow’s Intervention in Ukraine as ‘Dangerous and Inflammatory’

Susan Rice
National Security Adviser Susan Rice listens to reporters questions during a briefing on March 21, 2014 Manuel Balce Ceneta —AP

The National Security Adviser's condemnation comes ahead of a meeting between Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin

U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice has berated Russia for continuing to pump heavy weaponry and military personnel into Ukraine’s eastern provinces, where a pro-Moscow insurgency has been taking place since April.

“Repeated Russian incursions into Ukraine unacceptable. Dangerous and inflammatory,” said Rice on her Twitter account. “Russia has no right to send vehicles or cargo into Ukraine without Govt of Ukraine’s permission,” she said in a separate tweet.

She added that the Kremlin’s incursions into Ukraine represented a “significant escalation” of the crisis.

Rice’s strong words came hours ahead of a scheduled round of talks between Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Belarus on Tuesday. They also followed confirmation from NATO commanders last week that artillery units, manned by Russian troops, were operating both outside and within Ukraine and were bombarding Ukrainian forces.

Relations between Kiev and Moscow have been in a precipitous downward spiral since the ousting of Kremlin-backed President Viktor Yanukovych by mass demonstrations earlier this year. That was followed in March by the Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula — a move that inspired a pro-Russian rebellion in eastern Ukraine the following month.

Under the leadership of Poroshenko, Ukraine has incrementally beaten back the insurgency, despite the aid that the rebels are receiving.

“What we’ve seen in recent weeks is a steady advance by the Ukrainian forces and Russia trying to pull various expedients out of the hat to help their proxies over the border,” John Besemeres, professor and adjunct fellow at Australian National University’s Center for European Studies, tells TIME. “So far, at least, it doesn’t appear that any of these are working.”

On Monday, Kiev claimed to have captured a number of Russian paratroopers inside its borders.

The news came as President Poroshenko dissolved the country’s parliament and called for a new round of elections in October.

“Many deputies who are in the [Parliament] are direct sponsors or accomplices, that is to say allies of the militant separatists,” said Poroshenko, according to the Associated Press.

Approximately 2,249 people have been killed and more than 6,000 injured in Ukraine since hostilities erupted, according to an assessment by the U.N.

Despite the heavy losses, which include more than 700 Ukrainian servicemen, Poroshenko appears to be committed to eradicating the insurgents.

“We will manage to defend the independence, life and security of everyone, our right to live freely on our Ukrainian land at the cost of colossal efforts of the entire nation,” the President told the country during a national address on Aug. 24, the country’s Independence Day.

TIME Physics

Supersonic Submarines Just Took One Step Closer to Reality

That would make San Francisco to Shanghai in two hours a possibility

Chinese scientists say there could one day be a high-tech submarine that crosses the Pacific Ocean in less time than it takes to watch a movie, the South China Morning Post reports.

Researchers at the Harbin Institute of Technology, in northeast China, have made dramatic improvements to a Soviet-era military technology called supercavitation that allows submersibles to travel at high speeds, the Post says.

Supercavitation envelops a submerged vessel inside an air bubble to minimize friction. It enabled the Russian Shakval torpedo to reach speeds of 230 m.p.h. — but theoretically, a supercavitated vessel, given sufficient power at launch, could reach the speed of sound (some 3,603 m.p.h.). That would mean crossing the 6,000-odd miles from San Francisco to Shanghai in just two hours.

One of the problems of supercavitation has been how to steer a vessel at such speeds. The Harbin scientists say they could have the answer.

According to the Post, they’ve developed a way of allowing a supercavitated vessel to shower itself with liquid while traveling inside its own air bubble. The liquid creates a membrane on the surface of the vessel, and by manipulating this membrane, the degree of friction applied to different areas of the vessel could be controlled, which would enable steering.

“We are very excited by its potential,” said Li Fengchen, professor of fluid machinery and engineering at the Harbin Institute’s complex flow and heat transfer lab. “By combining liquid-membrane technology with supercavitation, we can significantly reduce the launch challenges and make cruising control easier,” he told the Post.

Li stressed, however, that many technical problems needed to be solved before supersonic submarine travel could take place.

[SCMP]

TIME Autos

Volvo Is Banking on This Car to Crack the Top End of the World’s Biggest Auto Market

Front detail of Volvo's new XC90 Volvo Car Group

But will affluent Chinese consumers like the XC90?

Volvo unveils its first car under Chinese ownership on Tuesday. It’s a high-stakes moment for the Swedish carmaker —and a time of reckoning for the Chinese auto industry’s global ambitions.

“If Volvo is successful, it will have a great significance on Chinese automakers,” Bin Zhu, China forecast-team manager at consultancy LMC Automotive, tells TIME. “It could boost their confidence and set an example for the whole industry.”

More cars are being produced and sold in China than anywhere else in the world, yet the country’s domestic brands have failed to have international impact. In fact, they’re even struggling at home. More Chinese drive a Ford, Volkswagen or Nissan than a Chery, Dongfeng or Great Wall. And as buyers become more affluent, domestic marques are shunned even more.

Consultancy firm McKinsey forecasts that China’s premium car market will be the largest in the world by 2020. However, consumers they talk to doubt that any local carmaker will have come up with a model prestigious enough for them by then. Currently, the three top brands — Audi, BMW and Mercedes — dominate 75% of the premium sector and keep growing at the expense of local rivals. The new Volvo XC90 could buck that trend.

“It’s a car that hits right in the heart of the market,” James Chao, director of the IHS consultancy’s automotive unit, tells TIME. “It’s a little larger SUV, premium but not fully luxury. It’s retained a lot of Volvo’s European flair, while many people surely would feel proud to drive a Chinese vehicle of this caliber. If it’s priced competitively and realistically, it could be a hit.”

Success isn’t guaranteed. There was widespread skepticism when Geely first purchased Volvo in 2010. Other acquisitions, such as state-owned SAIC’s deal with Korean Ssangyong or SAIC’s subsidiary Nanjing Auto’s purchase of MG Rover, failed to bring the sought-for synergies.

“Sometimes the Chinese companies have taken a lot of time to absorb the knowledge, or the knowledge has been out of date,” says Bin. But, he adds, Volvo and Geely could be different. “Volvo needed a lot of investment to develop new technology, while Geely had money but no strong development team. It was a win-win situation.”

The partnership got off to a shaky start. Managers from the two companies publicly contradicted each other on how Scandinavian the new cars would be, and the sometimes brash Chinese tastes collided with the sober aesthetic of safety-minded carmakers from Torslanda. However, communication slowly improved and the two sides seem to have found some equal ground. In an interview with the Financial Times, Volvo’s head of design Thomas Ingenlath said that Geely’s owner Li Shufu had “opened our eyes” to the importance of a backseat experience that included a champagne cooler and a humidor. Li, for his part, expressed his admiration for Volvo’s values, and said that he thinks they may stand for something the Chinese are craving right now.

“Particularly in China, I think a lot of people start to realize: O.K., what are the things that they truly should value,” Li told the Financial Times. “That’s something that fits perfectly well with what Volvo is offering.”

There’s no arguing about the importance of the new XC90 to both firms: it’s the first to be rid of Ford technology (the American automaker sold Volvo to Geely in 2010) and the product of an $11 billion development process that will lead to a completely renewed Volvo fleet by 2020. If the XC90 doesn’t become successful, Li told the Wall Street Journal, “it will be very painful.”

The partnership does have one competitive advantage. Since Geely owns Volvo, it doesn’t have to live by the restrictions for joint ventures and can be more aggressive when it comes to research, development and manufacturing facilities inside China.

“We’ll absolutely see more cross-pollination in the coming five years,” says Chao at IHS, who says the Volvo name should give Geely a boost. “[Chinese automaker] Hongqi sold about as many cars last year as Audi does on an average day,” he says. “Maybe the best idea isn’t to introduce your own branded car in China at this point.”

LMC’s Bin agrees. “I think we’ll see more localization and cars tailor-made for China,” he says. In the long term, he says there could be “an opportunity to challenge the German automakers.”

Whatever the outcome, there is no denying the crucial importance of the XC90′s launch for Volvo.

“It’s the biggest proof of what we’re all about,” Alain Visser, Volvo’s head of sales and marketing, tells TIME. “If this doesn’t work out, we have an issue.”

TIME Israel

Hopes for a Cease-Fire Rise as the Gaza War Drags On

A Palestinian walks on the rubble of a mosque that was partially damaged by an airstrike on Aug. 25, 2014 in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip.
A Palestinian walks on the rubble of a mosque that was partially damaged by an air strike in Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip, on Aug. 25, 2014 Roberto Schmidt—AFP/Getty Images

The Gaza war has reached its eighth week, and people on both sides keep dying. But there are reports of a potential truce

Israeli and Palestinian media outlets were abuzz with reports Monday that the various factions involved in the Israel-Hamas conflict were close to agreeing on a cease-fire deal following renewed efforts by Egypt and Saudi Arabia to help negotiate a truce. Either way, the possibility of reaching a cease-fire with a longer shelf life seemed to increase the likelihood of the sides reaching a cease-fire that would also be the prelude to a return to peace talks.

Khaled al-Batsh, an Islamic Jihad official attending the Cairo talks, was the source of reports that on the possible cease-fire. But a senior Hamas official, Izzat al-Rishq, said the sides had yet to agree on a cease-fire in Gaza, according to Israeli daily Haaretz, while another Lebanon-based Hamas official, Osama Hamdan, would only confirm in a Hamas radio interview that “efforts are under way to stop the Israeli aggression.” Late Sunday, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling on Israel and Palestinian factions to agree to a cease-fire without a time limit attached and to return to the peace negotiations.

A senior Israeli official reached by TIME says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office is declining to comment on the rumors of a possible cease-fire and suggests “exercising caution” in giving credence to the reports. A report on Israel’s Walla! news site suggested that Egypt would make an announcement on a deal late Monday, one that would include a reopening the Rafah crossing between southern Gaza and Egypt and the expansion of Gaza’s fishing zone to 12 nautical miles, two of Hamas’ demands. If the cease-fire is maintained, the report says, Israel will allow more commercial products into Gaza, including construction materials.

Still, Israel and Hamas have very different visions about how the conflict should end — which makes it challenging to reach an agreement satisfactory to all sides. “The dilemma is that Israel is not willing to talk before reaching a cease-fire, while there is still shooting going on, and the Palestinian factions insist that they want achievements in exchange for agreeing to a cease-fire,” says Ghassan Khatib, a veteran Palestinian political analyst and the vice president of Birzeit University in the West Bank.

Adding intrigue about what the week may hold, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview Saturday with the Egypt’s Sada El Balad station that in the coming days he would introduce his own plan for solving the greater Israel-Palestine conflict. Many analysts here have speculated that this will likely be built on the Arab Peace Initiative — also called the Saudi Peace Initiative — first put forward in 2002. In the plan, moderate Arab states would recognize Israel in return for Israel recognizing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Any such plan would, naturally, including a program for rebuilding Gaza, but Israel is concerned that materials like cement and steel will be used refresh Hamas’ military capabilities — including the tunnels that became the focus of the Israel Defense Forces’ recent Gaza invasion.

Abbas said he would be discussing the initiative this week with other top Palestinian officials in Ramallah. “It will be an unconventional solution, but I’m not going to declare war on Israel,” Abbas said in the interview. “I have diplomatic and political solutions.” He suggested that he doesn’t expect Washington to support his initiative but added that “in the end, our Arab brothers will go with us.”

Khatib believes that Abbas’s statement indicates that Saudi involvement would play a key role in a peace deal. “Saudi and international parties are trying to bridge the gap by giving guarantees, meaning that they would set up a mechanism by which a third-party will guarantee freedom of movement to and from Gaza, but check that this cannot be used for the rearming of Gaza.” Egypt, he says, would like to play this role — or at least a pivotal one. The three key European players — France, Germany and Britain — all are offering assistance as well. The three countries are reportedly working on a proposal for a U.N. resolution to end the fighting, according to a report leaked to Haaretz, as part of a plan to return Gaza to Palestinian Authority control under international supervision — the territory has been run by Hamas since June 2007 — end the Israeli embargo on Gaza and resume peace talks.

The alternative, it seems, is continued war. Each side has made it clear other over the past week than they are ready to keep fighting indefinitely. With the conflict between Israel and Hamas already dragging on far longer than expected — it is now heading into its eighth week — politicians on both sides in the conflict have begun to refer to the possibility of war of attrition. That’s a reference to the ongoing fighting following the 1967 Six-Day War, one that continued for another three years, pitting Israel against Egyptian, Jordanian, Palestinian and even Soviet forces. Netanyahu and his Defense Minister told Israelis on Aug. 24 to expect a protracted war and “if necessary,” a delay of the start of the school year next week, at least for schools that are in the line of fire from Gaza.

In the meantime, both sides have continued their attacks. Israel has carried out 70 air strikes in the Gaza Strip over the past two days, the IDF said in its Twitter feed, while over the same period Israel was targeted by more than 230 rockets and mortars from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant factions in Gaza. On Sunday a 4-year-old Israeli boy was laid to rest after he was killed in a mortar attack from Gaza on Friday, triggering an exodus of Israelis from communities near the Gaza border, which are not protected by the country’s Iron Dome missile-defense system. The boy’s death brought the number of Israelis killed in the ongoing war to 68, including 64 soldiers. That same day a Palestinian mother and her four children were killed in an Israeli air strike on Gaza. At least 2,120 Gazans have been killed in the conflict, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Barring a lasting cease-fire, both numbers will keep rising.

TIME Viewpoint

China’s Silent War on Terror

Chinese soldiers patrolling in old Kashgar, Xinjiang Province, July 30, 2014.
Chinese soldiers patrol in Kashgar, in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, on July 30, 2014 Kevin Frayer—Getty Images

A virtual media blackout makes it hard to know what's happening as China tackles unrest among its Uighur Muslim minorities

On a clear, sunny morning last October, an SUV carrying three people turned right on to Beijing’s Chang’an Avenue, plowed through crowds gathered near the entrance to the Forbidden City and burst into flames at the northern edge of Tiananmen Square. The wreck killed five people, including three in the vehicle and two bystanders. Dozens more were injured.

Almost immediately, eyewitnesses started posting pictures. The photographs showed scenes of chaos in the heart of China’s capital: a plume of smoke rising in front of a portrait of Chairman Mao; the charred carapace of the vehicle resting at the foot of the ancient Gate of Heavenly Peace. Almost as quickly as the images were posted, however, they started to disappear. It became clear that the Chinese government, and the government alone, would tell this story.

Nearly a year later, they are still pulling the strings. On Aug. 24, state-backed media announced that three masterminds behind the incident were executed, alongside five other convicted terrorists. The report listed their names and charges, but did not mention when or how they were put to death, where they were held, in what conditions, or whether they were offered legal counsel. (State broadcaster CCTV did note, however, that Usmen Hasan, the driver of the SUV, once beat a middle-school teacher and was “feared” by his wife.)

Though some elements of the official account may well be true, the reporting is clearly selective — and impossible to confirm. Hasan, his wife and his mother were killed in the crash, and the others were held out of public view. Maya Wang, a China researcher at Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong, says rights groups and foreign journalists have effectively been blocked from looking into the matter. “We are just as much in the dark about these individuals,” she says. “We have almost no independent information, except what the state press has released.”

The handling of the case is part of an effort to manage when, and how, China talks about terrorism. This past year has seen a wave of attacks, starting with the Tiananmen crash and moving, in bloody succession, to ambushes at train stations in Kunming and Urumqi in March and April, respectively. In late May, Urumqi was hit again, when attackers targeted a morning market, leaving dozens dead. Each was pinned, directly or indirectly, on “separatists” or “extremists” from Xinjiang. If and when details are released by state media, they tend to point toward a straightforward story of radicalization at the hands of overseas Islamic terrorist groups. And those reports are always followed by news of the government’s swift and effective response.

The reality is more complex. Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, which borders Russia, Pakistan and several Central Asian nations, is claimed as the traditional homeland of the Turkic Uighur people — and as part of China. Since coming to power in 1949, the ruling Chinese Communist Party has sent waves of military personnel and migrants west to settle the area they call New Frontier. Many Uighurs resent the influx of ethnic Han Chinese and worry they are getting cut out of the region’s resource-driven economic boom.

A small minority of the Uighur population, meanwhile, has waged a decades-long fight against the central government, often targeting symbols of state power including police stations and government buildings. There have also been direct attacks on civilians. The ruling party has responded by beefing up security and trying to forcibly integrate the mostly Muslim Uighur population. In recent months, entire cities have been sealed off by police checkpoints. Some areas are trying to discourage, or outright ban, certain types of beards and veils.

This has not stopped the bloodshed. In July, violence broke out in Xinjiang’s Shache county (called Yarkand in the Uighur language). State media waited more than 24 hours before announcing the unrest. As soon as they did, conflicting accounts emerged, with the government saying the violence broke out after police foiled a terrorist plot, and exile Uighur groups saying police opened fire on demonstrators protesting against restrictions during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and against the alleged extrajudicial killing of a Uighur family. The state says 96 people were killed; Uighur groups claim the figure is much higher.

We might never know what happened there. The authorities moved quickly to restrict access to the area and pulled comments from the almost-always-out-of-service web. (In times of unrest, authorities slow, or stop, Internet traffic in Xinjiang; after the 2009 riots the entire region was without Internet for nine months.) Given China’s weak record on the rule of law — and the sensitivity of the case — it’s highly unlikely that there will be an impartial investigation, let alone a fair trial. People on the ground in Xinjiang are rightly frightened that they will be punished if they comment. According to Radio Free Asia, a nonprofit media group, one blogger was already arrested for “spreading rumors” about the number of deaths.

Perhaps in 10 months we will finally hear more about the people involved in the incident. Like those killed in Beijing, Kunming, and Urumqi, the people who died in Yarkand deserve justice. The question is, what kind of justice will it be?

— With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Beijing

TIME India

India’s ‘Untouchables’ Are Still Being Forced to Collect Human Waste by Hand

World's Dirtiest Job
Devi Lal, a 43-year-old manual scavenger, cleans drains in New Delhi on July 13, 2012 Sagar Kaul—Barcroft Media/Getty Images

They face violence, eviction and withheld wages if they do not take on the hazardous job of emptying private and public latrines

The practice of forcing low-caste people in Indian communities to remove accumulated human waste from latrines is continuing despite legal prohibitions and must be stopped, says a leading advocacy group.

In a report released Monday, the New York City–based Human Rights Watch (HRW) detailed the practice of “manual scavenging” — the collecting of excrement from latrines by hand. The job is done by those considered to be of the lowest birth. These Dalits, or untouchables, often face threats of violence, eviction and withheld wages if they attempt to leave the trade.

“The first day when I was cleaning the latrines and the drain, my foot slipped and my leg sank in the excrement up to my calf,” Sona, a manual scavenger in Bharatpur, a city in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, told HRW. “I screamed and ran away. Then I came home and cried and cried. I knew there was only this work for me.”

Laws exist to curb this form of subjugation, yet it remains widespread across India. Dalit women typically collect waste from private homes, while the men do the more physically demanding, and hazardous, maintenance of septic tanks and public sewers. Many suffer injuries and serious health problems.

“The manual carrying of human feces is not a form of employment, but an injustice akin to slavery,” says Ashif Shaikh, founder of Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan, a grassroots campaign to end manual scavenging. “It is one of the most prominent forms of discrimination against Dalits, and it is central to the violation of their human rights.”

HRW’s 96-page report, Cleaning Human Waste: ‘Manual Scavenging,’ Caste, and Discrimination in India, is based on more than 100 interviews with manual scavengers, and documents how these wretched people are coerced to collect human excrement on a daily basis, carrying it away in nothing more protective than a cane basket.

“People work as manual scavengers because their caste is expected to fulfill this role, and are typically unable to get any other work,” says Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at HRW. “This practice is considered one of the worst surviving symbols of untouchability because it reinforces the social stigma that these castes are untouchable and perpetuates discrimination and social exclusion.”

HRW called on the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to enforce existing legislation aimed at assisting manual scavengers to find alternative, sustainable livelihoods.

“Successive Indian government attempts to end caste-based cleaning of excrement have been derailed by discrimination and local complicity,” adds Ganguly. “The government needs to get serious about putting laws banning manual scavenging into practice and assisting the affected caste communities.”

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser