Infrastructures of Modernity and the Labor of Sanitation in Urban India

Lalit Batra

When the sweepers change their profession, they will no longer remain untouchables. And they can do that soon, for the first thing that we will do when we accept the machine, will be to introduce the machine which clears dung without anyone having to handle it- the flush system. Then the sweepers can be free from the stigma of untouchability and assume the dignity of status that is their right as useful members of a casteless and classless society.

    Mulk Raj Anand, The Untouchable;  pg. 251-52.

On November 11, 2015, exactly 80 years after the young latrine cleaner Bakha, the protagonist of Mulk Raj Anand’s didactic novel The Untouchable, came to invest his desire for liberation from a life of caste-based indignity and humiliation in flush toilets and sewerages, Vinay Sirohi, a 22-year old Valmiki sanitation worker, left home for work at 6:30 in the morning. A vault operator at Keshopur sewage treatment plant (STP) in West Delhi, Sirohi was responsible for regulating the balance between the inflow of raw sewage water and the de-sludged water in what is called the ‘sludge digestion tank.’ Like the human digester, the sludge digester is a notoriously fickle but essential component of the wastewater treatment process. A blockage in any of the connecting pipes, if not immediately attended to, can cause substantial overflows of raw sewage or excessive production of toxic gases and bring the entire treatment process to a halt. The Standard Operating Procedure for STP maintenance mandates a coordinated intervention by a team of six – two operators, three helpers, and a safety inspector – to deal with overflow incidents. However, to cut costs, the private company managing the Keshopur plant had significantly reduced the number of workers in the Plant over the past few years. Consequently, instead of the required six, only one operator has been designated per shift to deal with overflows.

Continue reading “Infrastructures of Modernity and the Labor of Sanitation in Urban India”

Why does manual scavenging continue to exist in Tamil Nadu?

V. Ramaswamy & V. Srinivasan

“Few object to liberty in the sense of a right to free movement, in the sense of a right to life and limb. There is no objection to liberty in the sense of a right to property, tools, and materials, as being necessary for earning a living, to keep the body in a due state of health. Why not allow a person the liberty to benefit from an effective and competent use of a person’s powers? The supporters of Caste who would allow liberty in the sense of a right to life, limb, and property, would not readily consent to liberty in this sense, inasmuch as it involves liberty to choose one’s profession.

But to object to this kind of liberty is to perpetuate slavery. For slavery does not merely mean a legalized form of subjection. It means a state of society in which some men are forced to accept from others the purposes which control their conduct. This condition obtains even where there is no slavery in the legal sense. It is found where, as in the Caste System, some persons are compelled to carry on certain prescribed callings which are not of their choice.”

– B.R. Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste. Continue reading “Why does manual scavenging continue to exist in Tamil Nadu?”

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