Where there are no sewers: The toilet cleaners of Lucknow, India - and statements about the Indian caste system

  • F H Mughal
  • F H Mughal's Avatar
  • Senior Water and Sanitation Engineer
  • Posts: 1027
  • Karma: 20
  • Likes received: 222

Re: Where there are no sewers: The toilet cleaners of Lucknow, India

Dear Mr. Sharada,

Thanks for posting interesting photos.

I want to ask you about the India's Swachh Bharat program. The government website reveals impressive progress of Swachh Bharat program. But, on the other hand, various blogs reveal poor progress. For example, please see the following links:

www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/dirty-picture
www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/what-d...say-about-sanitation
www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017...stunting-sanitation/

Since you are doing research at Berkeley, I would like to ask you as to why it is so that, still, sanitation is a major problem in India, despite Bill Gates funding and efforts?

Regards,

F H Mughal

F H Mughal (Mr.)
Karachi, Pakistan
You need to login to reply
  • sharadaprasad
  • sharadaprasad's Avatar
    Topic Author
  • Sharada Prasad CS
  • Posts: 34
  • Karma: 2
  • Likes received: 18

Re: Where there are no sewers: The toilet cleaners of Lucknow, India

Dear Mughal,

Thank you for your question. I really appreciate it. I am sorry about the delay in my response. I found your question to be too broad to be answered in a concise manner.

But, I would say that sanitation problem in India is very complex interplay of social beliefs, political interests and economic feasibility. Both the state and the society need to "see sanitation". Both are turning a blind eye towards the ground realities of practices related to sanitation. The possible reasons for this are many - disgust, perception of purity, sense of danger, association of excreta with lower social class, fears related to disease contraction, etc.

Diane Coffey and Dean Spears recent book - "Where India goes" is a book worth reading to understand the role of caste not only in sanitation work but also in toilet adoption. Another documentary that could add perspective is Divya's Kakkoos -


Also, sanitation has many facets and Gates foundation is unable to focus on all of the aspects of sanitation for various reasons. I don't expect Gates to focus on all aspects of sanitation and I don't expect sanitation problem to be solved just because gates decided to fund projects.

BTW, I heard from some of the historians of caste that sanitation work in Pakistan and Bangladesh is still done by the Dalits (who sometimes get termed as Muslim dalits). Is that so? Can you please help me understand more about the social class of sanitation workers who manage human waste in Pakistan?

best,
Sharada

Best,
CS Sharada Prasad (CSP), PhD
Academic, Sanitation expert, WaSH consultant, and Photographer
sharadaprasad.com
The following user(s) like this post: muench, depinder
You need to login to reply
  • F H Mughal
  • F H Mughal's Avatar
  • Senior Water and Sanitation Engineer
  • Posts: 1027
  • Karma: 20
  • Likes received: 222

Re: Where there are no sewers: The toilet cleaners of Lucknow, India

Dear Mr. Sharada,

Thank you for your informative post.

In Pakistan, the job of manholes cleaning and pit cleaning is done, as you rightly note, by the dalitis. The dalitis are NOT Muslims. The local name of dalitis is "bhangies." I think, this local name is also used in India. As is the culture here, these dalitis cannot touch Muslims, or even Muslim utensils.

The work laying of sewer lines is done by Muslim workers. If an old sewer pipe is to be laid, removing of sewage is done by dalitis, while the laying work itself, is done by Muslim workers.

Regards,
F H Mughal

F H Mughal (Mr.)
Karachi, Pakistan
The following user(s) like this post: nmarkham
You need to login to reply
  • muench
  • muench's Avatar
  • Moderator of this Forum; Freelance consultant and Wikipedian (former roles: program manager, lecturer, process engineer for wastewater treatment plants)
  • Posts: 2818
  • Karma: 53
  • Likes received: 757

Re: Where there are no sewers: The toilet cleaners of Lucknow, India

Hi Mughal,

Is a "daliti" same as a "dalit"? If they are not Muslims what religious group do they belong to? Hindus?

I assume that the Pakistani laws are set up in a way that nobody is classified as a dalit anymore but all Pakistani citizens have equal rights (correct?). Nevertheless do people still identify themselves as a "dalit"? Why would they do so, could they not just say "I am the same as everybody else"? (this might be a naive question) There are no advantages of "being a dalit", only disadvantages, right?

We have a similar discussion here:
forum.susana.org/71-behaviour-change-and...ing-behaviour-change

Regards,
Elisabeth

Community manager and chief moderator of this forum
(Funded via GIZ short term consultancy contract)

Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
Independent consultant located in Brisbane, Australia
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Twitter: @EvMuench
Sanitation Wikipedia project leader: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Sanitation
My Wikipedia user profile: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:EMsmile
The following user(s) like this post: muhammadwaseem
You need to login to reply
  • F H Mughal
  • F H Mughal's Avatar
  • Senior Water and Sanitation Engineer
  • Posts: 1027
  • Karma: 20
  • Likes received: 222

Re: Where there are no sewers: The toilet cleaners of Lucknow, India

Yes, you are right - they are Hindus. I purposely did not mention that in my earlier post.

The word "dalitis," is not used here in common terminology (may be in some government papers). The word "bhangies" is used here. They are termed as untouchables, meaning that you cannot shake hands with them. Again, in common terminology, their status is less than a average person. They work as sanitary workers.

Regards,
F H Mughal

F H Mughal (Mr.)
Karachi, Pakistan
You need to login to reply
  • Ashok
  • Ashok's Avatar
  • Posts: 35
  • Karma: -1
  • Likes received: 13

Re: Where there are no sewers: The toilet cleaners of Lucknow, India

In India, at least, there are many advantages of being a Dalit.
Sometimes, even non -Dalits arrange a certificate of being a Dalit from District Magistrate Office.
The advantages are:
1. Free food rations,
2. Free House,
3. Free Children education including books. Copies, Uniform etc. the lot.
4. Free clothes,
5. Reservation even in higher education, including IITs (a Dalit with 20% marks gets admitted and a non-Dalit with 75% marks gets rejected)
6. Reservation in Jobs,
7. Reservation even in Indian Administrative Services (A Dalit gets selected with 15% marks and a non -Dalit gets rejected with 60% marks),
8. A political Dalit leader has a separate higher status
The disadvantage that you are known to be a Dalit but no body can call a Dalit a Dalit for fear of going to Jail.
Ashok
You need to login to reply
  • muench
  • muench's Avatar
  • Moderator of this Forum; Freelance consultant and Wikipedian (former roles: program manager, lecturer, process engineer for wastewater treatment plants)
  • Posts: 2818
  • Karma: 53
  • Likes received: 757

Re: Where there are no sewers: The toilet cleaners of Lucknow, India

This thread and the recent responses are bugging me. Maybe I am missing something, but let me just try to understand.

Mughal, you said:
"They are termed as untouchables, meaning that you cannot shake hands with them. Again, in common terminology, their status is less than a average person. They work as sanitary workers."

Does that mean that you would not shake hands with a person who you know is classified as a Dalit if you met this person? Is it legal/acceptable for you not to do so or could the person protest and insist that he/she be treated like anyone else? Were you explaining a societal convention that some people follow and some people don't, or is it a "law"? What would hapen if you did shake hands with them?

And what is stopping a Dalit from moving to another city where nobody knows him or her and just lead a "normal life"? Or can you tell from the person's dialect that he or she is a dalit? Is it stamped into his passport?

And this question of mine from an earlier post hasn't been answered yet:
I assume that the Pakistani laws are set up in a way that nobody is classified as a dalit anymore but all Pakistani citizens have equal rights (correct?).

Ashok, that list of "advantages" seems a bit odd to me. I guess you are listing here the affirmative action steps that the government has taken - probably for good reason, or not?
I think there is a pretty good Wikipedia article about this topic which explains these government actions. It is called:
"Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes"
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scheduled_Castes_and_Scheduled_Tribes

The article on Dalits is also good:
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dalit


Regards,
Elisabeth

Community manager and chief moderator of this forum
(Funded via GIZ short term consultancy contract)

Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
Independent consultant located in Brisbane, Australia
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Twitter: @EvMuench
Sanitation Wikipedia project leader: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Sanitation
My Wikipedia user profile: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:EMsmile
You need to login to reply
  • F H Mughal
  • F H Mughal's Avatar
  • Senior Water and Sanitation Engineer
  • Posts: 1027
  • Karma: 20
  • Likes received: 222

Re: Where there are no sewers: The toilet cleaners of Lucknow, India

Does that mean that you would not shake hands with a person who you know is classified as a Dalit if you met this person? Is it legal/acceptable for you not to do so or could the person protest and insist that he/she be treated like anyone else? Were you explaining a societal convention that some people follow and some people don't, or is it a "law"? What would hapen if you did shake hands with them?


People keep away from the sanitary workers

And what is stopping a Dalit from moving to another city where nobody knows him or her and just lead a "normal life"? Or can you tell from the person's dialect that he or she is a dalit? Is it stamped into his passport?

No one
More or less, yes
I haven't seen their passports

And this question of mine from an earlier post hasn't been answered yet:
I assume that the Pakistani laws are set up in a way that nobody is classified as a dalit anymore but all Pakistani citizens have equal rights (correct?).


I would not know.

F H Mughal

F H Mughal (Mr.)
Karachi, Pakistan
You need to login to reply
  • muench
  • muench's Avatar
  • Moderator of this Forum; Freelance consultant and Wikipedian (former roles: program manager, lecturer, process engineer for wastewater treatment plants)
  • Posts: 2818
  • Karma: 53
  • Likes received: 757

Re: Where there are no sewers: The toilet cleaners of Lucknow, India

I am a bit concerned about your statements here. What does it mean in practical terms when you say "People keep away from the sanitary workers"?
With sanitary workers, do you mean only people who empty pit latrines or also those who do maintenance on sewers or perhaps even maintain and operate wastewater treatment plants?

If you as an engineer were to visit a sewer project or a septic tank site and somebody who is a "sanitary worker" was working there, does that mean you would not speak to that person? Who then would do transactions like provide training, interview them, pay salaries? I don't understand.

Also you said that you don't know if Dalits in Pakistan have equal rights to non-Dalits in Pakistan. Perhaps we have other forum members from Pakistan who are knowledgeable on this issue and can clarify this?

I haven't done a detailed Google search yet but I did find this article in Wikipedia:
Human rights in Pakistan
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_in_Pakistan

It has a section on
Intolerance against Hindus and other minorities
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_in_Pa...and_other_minorities

This kind of intolerance and lack of human rights would probably then apply to the Dalits, since they are Hindus living in Pakistan. (my guess)

I am just citing these Wikipedia articles but I have no clue if they are good or not. They look fairly well referenced.

Someone might say that I am straying too far off topic here. I think the Dalit issue does have close links to our sanitation topic, especially in India but also in Nepal and possibly Pakistan.
This has also been raised in this related thread:
Deeper Self Perception Behaviour Change Barriers - Looking beyond short sighted commercial marketing behaviour change (India and caste issues)
forum.susana.org/71-behaviour-change-and...dia-and-caste-issues

Regards,
Elisabeth

Community manager and chief moderator of this forum
(Funded via GIZ short term consultancy contract)

Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
Independent consultant located in Brisbane, Australia
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Twitter: @EvMuench
Sanitation Wikipedia project leader: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Sanitation
My Wikipedia user profile: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:EMsmile
You need to login to reply
  • sharadaprasad
  • sharadaprasad's Avatar
    Topic Author
  • Sharada Prasad CS
  • Posts: 34
  • Karma: 2
  • Likes received: 18

Re: Where there are no sewers: The toilet cleaners of Lucknow, India

Dear Elisabeth,

Thank you for getting this conversation going and making very pertinent points.

I am really not surprised by Ashok's response. Most of my friends who are non Dalits respond in a similar manner. They feel that these days it is advantageous to be born as a Dalit. Being a Dalit helps you get into engineering or medical colleges even if they don't do well in entrance exams, Dalits have better government job prospects, become eligible for several social welfare schemes etc. What they don't seem to see is that Dalits have not benefited fully from these programs for various reasons. If all Dalits could have access to all these affirmative action steps, they would not be doing the degrading jobs they are still doing. Right?

To add to the discussion, I would also like to share my understanding / observations related to sanitation work in India and its comparison to high income countries.

As far as the high income societies are concerned, sanitation work can be classified into two major parts - solid waste management and human waste management. 'Trash collectors / workers' or people who manage solid waste management in high income countries face their own challenges and social stigmas. Robin Nagle's Picking Up book is an insightful read regarding the same.

As far as human waste management is concerned, high income countries have divided it up into completely engineering focused work and 'janitorial work'. Engineering focuses on laying out sewer pipes, managing the blocks, treating the sewage etc and janitorial work is more focused on 'keeping the toilet clean'. Engineering work requires specialized education, skills, and licensing. It is severely regulated for various reasons.

In India, there is no such clear distinction. Sewage treatment plants are managed by trained professionals and sewerage networks are designed by engineers but unblocking the sewerage pipes, emptying pits, and cleaning toilets is all done by workers without much of any professional training / licensing. These workers are invariably Dalits (arrival of trucks is gradually altering this social fabric). Sanitation work in Indis is barely regulated.

'Janitor' does not have an easy translation in most of Indian languages. 'Sanitation work' is not a term that people in India can easily relate to or understand. 'Corporation worker' or 'Municipal worker' comes a bit close as they are burdened with the job of keeping the streets and public toilets clean.

To partially answer some of your questions - And what is stopping a Dalit from moving to another city where nobody knows him or her and just lead a "normal life"? Or can you tell from the person's dialect that he or she is a dalit? Is it stamped into his passport?

Many Dalits move to bigger cities or live in a different neighborhood of a large city to hide their identity and start a new life. But they find it hard to seek new jobs or acquire skills that equip them to do a different job. One's surname or dialect might give away one's caste. A Dalit might get severely punished, if his identity if found out, for polluting the society by hiding his identity. The degree of violence against Dalits is not uniform throughout India.

Most Dalits probably do not have a passport. Even if they do, caste is not stamped on it.

In India, just as most of the South Asian countries, sanitation work cannot be discussed without discussing caste and untouchability.

Best,
CS Sharada Prasad (CSP), PhD
Academic, Sanitation expert, WaSH consultant, and Photographer
sharadaprasad.com
The following user(s) like this post: muench, sengel
You need to login to reply
  • sharadaprasad
  • sharadaprasad's Avatar
    Topic Author
  • Sharada Prasad CS
  • Posts: 34
  • Karma: 2
  • Likes received: 18

Re: Where there are no sewers: The toilet cleaners of Lucknow, India

Dear Ashok,

I am really not sure how to respond to your comment. However, I have a feeling that I might know where you are coming from. I come from a non Dalit family in India. Most of my friends are non-Dalits. I was conditioned by my family and friends to look at Dalits as my enemies, as people who have all the benefits but are lazy to do any respectful job. People of my caste want to blame someone because they are losing their grip over the society, their children can no longer get the jobs easily. Instead of understanding the complex changes India is going through, we all want a simplistic answer - Dalits and Muslims provide that answer. This approach is not unique to India. Trump has provided such answers to Americans by blaming immigrants for certain problems of the US.

I did not know that manual scavenging still existed in India. I have been working on sanitation issues for over a decade now. But I focused on fecal sludge management and not on dry latrines. When I read Bhasha Singh's book - Unseen: The Truth about India's Manual Scavengers, I was shocked. I got in touch with Bezwada Wilson of Safai Karmachari Andolan to create a photography based work to spread awareness related to the human side of manual scavenging. I created this photo essay for my own family and friends. I am still working on undoing the biases I have been raised with. I hope it will not end up being a task of my lifetime.

If every Dalit had access to the things that you have listed below, they would not have been dying in our sewers. Reading thewire.in/caste/sanitation-workers-deaths-caste-swachh-bharat might help you understand the plight of Dalit sanitation workers in India.

As far as Swachh Bharat Mission is concerned, there will surely be an increase in the number of toilets. But I am not sure if India will have the right approach and infrastructure to manage all the waste generated by those toilets. Dalits will continue to die because of our apathy.

Best,
CS Sharada Prasad (CSP), PhD
Academic, Sanitation expert, WaSH consultant, and Photographer
sharadaprasad.com
The following user(s) like this post: muench, sengel
You need to login to reply
  • muhammadwaseem
  • muhammadwaseem's Avatar
  • Posts: 5
  • Likes received: 7

Re: Where there are no sewers: The toilet cleaners of Lucknow, India

Dear Elisabeth,

My answers to your question/comments.

Is a "daliti" same as a "dalit"? If they are not Muslims what religious group do they belong to? Hindus?

There is no such word Dalit or Dalitis used in Pakistan (maybe in Karachi or some part of Sindh - because there are few hindu communities in the cities and villages). Dalit, meaning "broken/scattered" in Sanskrit and Hindi, is a term mostly used for the castes in INDIA that have been subjected to untouchability. In Pakistan there is no such a cast system as it is in India.

However, i think we are missing the point. It is not about Dalit it is all about human rights and unfortunately in Pakistan such sanitary job is done by minorities (most of the time). These minorities are not only Hindus but christians and other possible religious believers. Therefore, in Pakistani context we should be talking about minorities (and not Dalits) who are generally doing the job unhygienically.

I assume that the Pakistani laws are set up in a way that nobody is classified as a dalit anymore but all Pakistani citizens have equal rights (correct?). Nevertheless do people still identify themselves as a "dalit"? Why would they do so, could they not just say "I am the same as everybody else"? (this might be a naive question) There are no advantages of "being a dalit", only disadvantages, right?


Yes Pakistani law exactly says that about equal rights. Furthermore, it says that the human/religious rights will be given to the minorities. Maybe in smaller Hindu community they you will hear about the word "Dalit", i never heard of such word.
The following user(s) like this post: muench
You need to login to reply
Share this thread:
Recently active users. Who else has been active?
Time to create page: 1.397 seconds