At present, the work of cleaning roads, drains and gutters in cities is mostly done manually by sanitation workers. In this, cleaning of roads, drains and gutters and dry latrines is done by hand. It is well known that almost all the employees engaged in this work come from the Dalit community. The salary of these people is very low, which in some circumstances is even less than the minimum wage set by the government. To keep their expenses low, municipalities and town councils often employ less staff than required for Sanitation work. These employees do not even get their salaries on time due to which they remain in debt. Overall, these employees are exploited a lot.
It is well known that sanitation work is a difficult job because the workers engaged in it are at great risk of becoming victims of many types of diseases. Along with this, people associated with this work are considered inferior and are hated. Because only Dalits do this work, till date no one has understood the need to modernize this work. Even today dray latrines, drains and gutters are cleaned by hand. For this, employees are not provided with bandages to cover their nose, gum boots to cover their feet and legs, and handcarts to carry garbage etc.
It is known that even in foreign countries, cleaning work is done by sanitary workers, but there this work is mostly done by machines/equipment and the sanitary workers are safe from the kind of dangers that sanitary workers of our country face. Apart from diseases, many sanitary workers in our country die while cleaning gutters filled with poisonous gas. Because most of the gutter cleaning work is done through private contractors, they do not even get compensation in case of death. Even where the employee concerned is a regular employee of the municipality, the municipality gives very little compensation on the pretext of financial constraints.
Therefore, in view of the above-mentioned dangerous conditions of cleaning work, it is necessary that the said work be modernized. In this, more and more machines/equipment should be used instead of hands. But it seems that if only Dalits are engaged in this work, no one will feel the need to modernize it. For this, it is necessary that the Dalits currently engaged in this work should boycott this work so that people from the upper castes are also forced to do this work. When such a situation arises, the upper castes themselves will start thinking about its modernization. In this direction, the movement started by the Dalits of Gujarat of not picking up dead animals and not cleaning gutters should be followed by the sanitation workers of the entire country.
As everyone is aware, Modi government has been running a Svachhita Abhiyan (cleanliness campaign) for the last many years and in the name of cleanliness, it is also collecting tax from all the income tax payers along with income tax. But despite all this, no significant improvement is yet visible in the overall sanitation situation. Yes, big posters and advertisements are being put up in its name and photographs of leaders sweeping clean places are being published. Till now the cleaning work has neither been modernized nor mechanized.
The amount of money that has been spent on the promotion of Modiji’s cleanliness campaign, if that money had been spent on purchasing machines for gutter cleaning and on mechanizing and modernizing the cleaning work, then thousands of people would not have died every year during gutter cleaning. Along with this, the contract system in sanitation work could also be stopped. Unless the sanitation workers mobilize and fight for this, mechanization and modernization of sanitation work is not going to happen. Only the sanitation workers must decide about this. They should always remember Babasaheb’s slogan ” Bhangi Leave the Jhadu”. Remember Babasaheb had said, “The snatched rights are not obtained by folding hands in front of the oppressors, they have to be snatched by continuous struggle.”
S.R. Darapuri, National President, All India People’s Front