Monday, June 18, 2012

Droplets of Happiness or Tears of Sorrow?

It started off with a loud prologue. 
Like the drums that precede the 'Baraat' or the procession accompanying the groom in an Indian wedding. Almost like a light and sound show as well, with lightning and thunder setting the stage perfectly, for the first few hesitant drops. 
The barrage followed. And just like that, it was the first rain. 
The Earth responded eagerly with that heady aroma of its quenched thirst, and the birds sang with joy. Trees and leaves, heads and tails, all enjoying and dancing in the drops of happiness pouring forth from the skies. 

And yet, there are many, dreading the onset of the monsoon in this arid part of Central India. 
The reason, when explored, links up to the lack of proper sanitation facilities in the area. Disorganized or rather, 'confused' semi-urbanized settlements like the town of Babina, and other, small, more-village, less-town, settlements in the area, combine the disadvantages of both villages and cities; and lacking the facility of clean, wet toilets (toilets which have a provision for the flushing of the excreta), they still continue with the ancient tradition of 'dry-toilets' which need manual scavenging to clean them. 

This perpetuates discrimination against certain castes, who are the only ones carrying out the 'refuse' of humanity in this part of the world. 

The impact is particularly critical on women. 

They are 'unemployable' in any other role, even as domestic help, in their own words, as the first thing people ask them is their caste, and knowing their so-called 'identity', refuse to let them enter their house for anything other than, 'cleaning their toilets'. 
Meet any woman of the 'Valmiki' caste and she will tell you how her family is called 'Bhangi', a term used to address people of the castes which are expected to carry out manual scavenging including cleaning latrines and handling dead bod es (both human and animal). 

Discriminated against, and abused for literally cleaning our, 'shit', these women silently go about their work to earn the mere, two-rotis (flatbread) a day, or the fifty rupees they are paid for an entire month of insanely difficult work. 

Made illegal in 1993, employing of manual scavengers, and construction of dry latrines, still continue across the country, and can be witnessed easily enough if one wishes to do so.

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UN-HRC), at a 2002 meeting of the Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, said, “Public latrines – some with as many as 400 seats – are cleaned on a daily basis by female workers using a broom and a tin plate. The excrement is piled into baskets which are carried on the head to a location which can be up to four kilometers away from the latrine. At all times, and especially during the rainy season, the contents of the basket will drip onto a scavenger’s hair, clothes and body.......they are thus exposed to the most virulent forms of viral and bacterial infections which affect their skin, eyes, limbs, respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. TB (tuberculosis) is rife among the community."

Thus the pitter-patter of happiness for some of us, might be the sound of sorrow for many. 

While you enjoy that cup of steaming tea in the rain-soaked balcony, cribbing that your prayers to the rain-Gods for this heavenly nectar were not answered earlier, you might want to ponder on the thought that, the delay might just have been caused by the millions, praying harder than you, for the latrines and their contents to be dry so they could easily, 'scoop them up'.

**For those wishing to read more, WaterAid's insightful report, Burden of Inheritance ( in a hard-hitting tone, analyzes and deconstructs the social conventions that allows this inhuman practice to continue, and pleads for strong action against it. 

1 comment:

Shubham said...

Though I have worked with Manual Scavengers and Cleanliness workers in Mumbai, the rain nightmare suffered by women that you have brought out in this story is new to me.
These stories need to be told.