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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Work involving waste products is tough, dangerous and oppressive. A report found that 90 per cent of India’s sanitation workers die before they reach retirement age.

Work involving waste products is tough, dangerous and oppressive. A report found that 90 per cent of India's sanitation workers die before they reach retirement age.

The politics of waste management - BARBARA HARRISS-WHITE

... India's waste management economy is clearly and uniquely impregnated with caste. Research suggests that to break this down modern jobs that are caste-neutral are needed, along with opportunities for education and migration. The workers I spoke to agreed and added that there was a need to provide opportunities for self-employment, which they felt gave them some much-desired independence. They also expressed the need for greater state intervention. ...

... By now, half the town's houses have septic tanks. However, the owners of the small fleets of septic tankers report that very few households empty them regularly — they might be cleared once in a generation or when they break down. And there are no facilities for the treatment of faecal sludge when it is pumped out — it is all dumped into a nearby lake and the river bed; the lorry drivers are fined by the police when caught in the act.

Meanwhile, human waste from the other 50 per cent of the households and almost all commercial buildings finds its way into the open drains and urban drainage ditches where it joins general consumption waste. By all accounts, this also includes medical waste leaking from private hospitals. Impossible to separate from the other waste, its final resting place is the dangerously toxic dumpyard, where entire families of indigent scrap-gatherers survive by sifting the putrid surface. Meanwhile, though it is illegal, someone may try containing the mess by systematically — maybe on a weekly basis — setting fire to portions of it. I don't see the these difficulties being recognised in the public debates on defecation. ...

... However, in my research, I came to understand that while there has been some sporadic empowerment, it both results from and reinforces a politics of social identity. Whether there is a Swachh Bharat programme or not, the dignity and social condition of workers involved in waste management figures right at the bottom of the political agenda.
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