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Hullabaloo


Sunday, July 06, 2014

 
Perspective

by digby

Think you have the worst job in the world? Not even close:

Karamani Kale emerged from the manhole, sewage clinging to his body. Next to him, Sona Bai gathered filth in a small round basket and carried it on her head to the end of the street. The unpleasant process had started at dawn and would continue for at least 12 hours.

This is how sewers are cleaned in most Indian cities, including Mumbai, the nation's booming financial capital: Workers use metal scrapers, brooms or their bare hands to clear drainage and sanitation lines twice a year, before and after the annual monsoon rains.

In gutters, workers who earn about $5 a day stand in the waste, which reaches chest high, and use long wooden sticks to clear jams. In some areas, workers crawl through the sewage, wearing no protective gear.

Mumbai's skyline is rising by the day, but the growth has come on the beleaguered backs of workers like these. Manual scavenging, as their work is known, was ruled illegal last year, but private contractors hired by the municipal government continue to employ them. Hundreds reportedly die from the work each year.

Many scavengers say they have no alternative.

"I have never been to school. But I want my kids to be educated. Therefore, I have to do various small jobs and this is one of them," said Kale, a man in his mid-40s with wrinkles on his hands and face, who cannot read or write. "Nobody has ever told me that this is banned."

Kale's co-worker, Manu Pawar, described the humiliating experience of entering a manhole.

"Filth and human excrement are a given, but sometimes we come across a dead dog or a dead rat as well," he said. Broken bottles lurk in the pitch-black sewer system too, he said, pointing at his leg, which was covered with scars and cuts.

Although sewage cleanup has become mechanized in some areas, government figures suggest that 770,000 people either work as sewage cleaners or are supported by them.

The Tata Institute of Social Sciences, an educational and research organization, found that 80% of the workers die before age 60 because of work-related health problems. In Mumbai, an average of 20 sewer workers die each month from accidents, suffocation or exposure to toxic gases, the study found.

Each month.

Oh God that's awful.


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