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The caste of sanitation

The caste of sanitation

Swachhata is for the elite. Swachchta is coloured with caste. While crossing the IIT-Delhi bridge one day, I saw a barefoot worker covered with dirt all over his body. I got curious and wanted know more about him. He told me that he was a sanitary worker. He said something unexpected that since in that area, majority of people living were brahmins (considered the upper caste of the society), he makes sure that the area is extra clean. That area is indeed clean but for a reason that was so unexpected.

Swachch Bharat Abhiyan

The Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, while presenting the general budget, 2016-17 in Lok Sabha said "This (cleanliness) subject was very close to the heart of the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi. The government has allocated Rs 9,000 crore for Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.

According to Bezwada Wilson, the National Convenor of the Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA), basic problem with Swacch Bharat Abhiyan is that it decontextualises the issue of sanitation from its social roots. The way Swachch Bharat Campaign looks at the work of cleanliness is deeply problematic. It calls it everybody's work. One can even look at the Swacchta Pledge administered by honourable PM to everyone when he launched the campaign "Ab hamara kartavya hain ki gandagi ko door karke Bharat Mata ki sewa karein" (Now, it is our duty to serve Mother India by removing the dirt). This whole approach makes the interlinkages which exist in India between cleanliness and caste invisible, where you have condemned ' n' number of communities – called by different names at different places – to do this work and also covers up the achievements of the movements of Safai Karamcharis who have tried to contextualise the issue of cleanliness in this part of South Asia. It is a fact that without addressing the issue of caste it is impossible to deal with the question of cleanliness in our country.

We can also notice the gap between what is being said and practised. The Swacch Bharat Abhiyan was launched, celebrities came, there were photo-sessions with brooms and today who is cleaning – not the celebrities, not the stars but it is sanitary workers who are doing it. Mahatma Gandhi, while talking about sanitation, stated, "I call scavenging as one of the most honourable occupations", (Harijan 1934). Recently, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi said, "Scavenging must have been a spiritual experience for the Balmiki caste." Both associated scavenging with caste. In order to have a clean India, it is necessary to demolish caste system and engage all castes in sanitation.

The caste and related discriminations have become so common and ingrained in our psyche that nobody finds anything abominable about it. In the present time, there is no need of sanitary workers. Instead, the Government should spend enough money to mechanise the processing of waste rather than using human beings to clean it up. The public should be encouraged to segregate waste before disposal. Also, the law enacted to stop manual scavenging should be followed.

(It is the views of the author. It has no bearing on/nor a reflection of the editorial policy of democracy live.)


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