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

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

Dear Mr. Mughal,



Thank you for your informative post. I would agree and disagree with you.

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.


Bhangies is not alternative word for Dalits. Dalit is a cast and Bhangies is Alcoholic/drugs addict. I think its different. And the job is not only done by bhangies but professionals too however, they are also from minorities. Bhangies are unfortunately finacially forced to do this job to earn some money.
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  • muhammadwaseem
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Re: Where there are no sewers: The toilet cleaners of Lucknow, India

Dear Elisabeth,


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?


As i mentioned no such word is used in Pakistan. Muslims can touch every human being as it is not forbiden in Islam or Pakistani Law. Regarding shaking hand with Bhangies (as Mr. Mughal mentioned), it is just unfortunately a cultural practice to not come close to a person who just cleaned a sewage pipes. Although cleaning in general is appriciated in Islam. Islam says "Cleanliness is half the islamic faith". Still majority of muslims culturaly do not follow this teaching of Islam. But this not different here in Germany. Let me please tell you one story to explain the situation. I was going with my German friend to take a S-Bahn (train) in Berlin at Zoologischergarten. He asked to open the main entrance door of the train station. I said why would you not open it yourself. "There are so many drug addicts and homeless people around thus touching the door all the time that is why i do not want to touch the door" he replied me.

Furthermore, I would like to give one more example from Germany, since you are German that would make it easy to understand the situation. Unfortunately minorities are forced to do such jobs in Pakistan as they are here in Germany (most of the public toilet cleaners are from african origin in Germany)

So it is just about culturally accepting the cleaners and sweapers in Pakistan. It has nothing to do with beliefs or laws.

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?

As mentioned there is no Dalit concept in Pakistan. A sweage/toilet cleaner (from minority group) can move where ever he/she want and live a normal life untill neigbours find out that he still cleans the sewage pipes.

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?).


Yes correct. Dalit is not used in Pakistan hence no legal definition of Dalit in Pakistani constitution.
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  • muhammadwaseem
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Re: Where there are no sewers: The toilet cleaners of Lucknow, India

Dear Elisabeth,

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?


People would prefer to keep distance while having converstation. The same way when a person smelling badly and jumps into a train, other passengers would prefer to move to next compartment.

However, i would suggest to use an international sanitation termonologies (maybe from UNICEF) to not confuse the discussion. We are talking about informal emptiers of sewage pipes/pit latrines or house maids etc. I think what Mr. Mughal meant with sanitary workers is informal emptiers (so called bhangies, daily wagers from minority groups etc. who struggle to earn few bugs every day) who empty the pit laterin or clean the pipes without safety and unhygienically.

The maintenece of sewers is usually done by skilled labour not so called Dalit (or Bhangies). The repair and maintenece of sewers is a well accepted proffession (and culturally accepted). And the same for wastewater treatment plants (only skilled "Ausgebildet" people would do that).

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)

By law, every person from minority group (Hindi, Christian ...) has right to follow his beliefs and will not be forced to become a cleaner.
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  • shobana
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Re: Where there are no sewers: The toilet cleaners of Lucknow, India

Dear Sharada, Ashok and all,

My first question would be why we as sanitation professional should be using the term 'Dalit'. Muhammad had clearly explained what the term means. I would prefer using the legal term Scheduled Caste or SC although it may include people apart from Dalits.

It needs to be clear that manual scavenging was outlawed in 1993 and the ministry in India is trying to collect data and register manual scavengers .
But why does scavenging still exist? It is simply because nobody realises that a women who come to clean their toilet in the morning in a 'manual scavenger'. There is no recognition that this is banned or wrong and clearly there is no Government will to break the caste system encouraging this. Although SCs do have more opportunities and reservations ( affirmative action), the environment is not conducive enough for them to fully make use of the benefits for the past 40 - 50 years.
People would have to pay more to get honey suckers to do the job instead of just offering two pieces of bread to the night soil pickers.

Best,
Shobana

Shobana Srinivasan
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  • Ashok
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Re: Where there are no sewers: The toilet cleaners of Lucknow, India

Dear All,
I am sure that, at least in terms of India, manual scavenging is going to be a thing of the past with so much pressure being built by the Government on constructing Toilets with flushing, may be pour flush but flush they must. Every household, rural and/or urban is being provided with a flush toilet.
The problem will arise when the time comes for emptying the leach pits or cleaning the septic tanks or sewers.
As suggested in international community that "pits will be free of all nuisance and can be emptied by the owner himself" will certainly not work in India and again a Bhangy has to be called in. But, by then, the process would change a lot and in all probability, some mechanization would come up so that the job becomes much more respectable as compared to manual scavenging and also it would be certainly not such a low paid job.
The present position is, and this is the main problem which no body wants to talk about, that bhangies do not want to leave there present job as it gets them so many benefits from the Government throughout their their life and the people in general just take them for granted as they are available for the asking.
They have been given a different, and hopefully all the time, a different identity but that only demarcates them more and more. HARIJAN by none other than Mahatma Gandhi, BAHUJAN by Kanshi Ram but the stigma remains. Such castes are scheduled in the Constitution of India and hence the word Schedule Caste, which is in no way legal.
Why do we have to differentiate them and us? As it is there are more than a thousand castes and sub castes in India among Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Gorkhas etc. etc. we do not want to put a new or different tag an any of them so what is so special about DALITS?
The answer, I think is very simple. We can not live with them and we can not live without them. Hence a gap is necessary!
Next five years are going to see a change beyond imagination as far as these people are concerned.

I am attaching a Photo which speaks for itself. A "DALIT" ( A sweeper in this case, with a broom talking to his relatives and going on with his chores on a scooter. ( This was captured by me on 9th June 2018 at 6 AM on Civil Lines Road in New Delhi). You can easily place him by his dress.
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  • Marijn Zandee
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Re: Where there are no sewers: The toilet cleaners of Lucknow, India

Dear all,
I must say I am quite disturbed by the some of the reactions in this thread. I realize that I am a European wading into a very sensitive Indian discussion, and that this post will probably not be appreciated by all. However, I hope you can still bear with me and at least consider an outsider’s perspective.

Some of you may have noticed that one of the posts by Ashok Jain has already been removed. As it is removed, I cannot quote directly, but the gist of it was that the members of the scheduled casts in India now receive so many benefits from the government that they have become lazy and only complain. To my mind, this is a very problematic statement. In less crass terms, it is also repeated in Ashok’s post above.

For me, there is no doubt that statements like this are discriminatory and derogatory. Because the members of the scheduled cast are put into one group that is then described in very negative terms.

Perhaps it is not needed, but here is a definition of discrimination from the Merriam Webster dictionary:

a : prejudiced or prejudicial outlook, action, or treatment
b : the act, practice, or an instance of discriminating categorically rather than individually


In my view, this kind of discrimination has no place on a forum like ours; whether based on gender, caste, ethnicity, religion or other.

To me, it seems that Ashok’s post are part of a backlash against positive discrimination of members of the scheduled casts by the government. While in the context of caste this is a uniquely South Asian phenomenon, a similar issue is at play in the so called developed nations as well (which is why I feel some confidence against speaking out against Ashok’s views). For those following the news about Europe and the USA, it should be clear that there is a similar backlash against the progress made on women’s rights and the strength with which (highly educated) people from a migrant background claim their rights.

I hope that in the future we will not see these types of discriminatory posts on the forum, and that we can all move beyond the –isms (racism, sexism, castism, etc.) and use our energy in a more productive way.

Meanwhile, here is an article from The Wire (an Indian publication) that sheds some more light on the issue of manual scavenging.

https://thewire.in/caste/what-would-urban-sanitation-look-like-without-caste


Regards
Marijn

Marijn Zandee

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

Dear All,

I am removing the term 'Dalit' from the topic. The reasons are:

1. Most night soil pickers and cleaners are infact dalits or other lower caste people in India. But, NOT ALL Dalits are night soil pickers.
2. Talking about the Indian caste system will only bring unpleasant discussions. It is a root cause but we cannot expect a speedy solution unless and until the Govt. abolishes the caste syste,. This is highly unlikely. Using the term 'India' itself is quite erroneous here because it does not apply to the entire country. The thread started mentioning a particular region in India and not India as a whole.
3. The gender perspective is not reflected by the term 'Dalit' . The toilet cleaners are often women in these villages.
4. Many young Indians are not in favour of the caste system.

The solution to this problem from a sanitation perspective can come only when we think about the core of the problem. How will the pits be emptied if humans do not do the job, what kind of alternate jobs can night soil pickers be offered?

Dear Marijn ,

As much as I like what you have written here, I have to disagree to some points.
I certainly am not in favour of the content in the deleted post as well.

For me, there is no doubt that statements like this are discriminatory and derogatory.


It is not just the statements, but merely using the term 'Dalit' in the professional space is itself derogatory. The term is the reason for the backlash.

For those following the news about Europe and the USA, it should be clear that there is a similar backlash against the progress made on women’s rights and the strength with which (highly educated) people from a migrant background claim their rights.

Yes, but it cannot be compared to the Indian scenario. The division of caste came up 3000 years ago . This is an age old problem which the Government decided to keep as dismantling it would cause chaos. The division is deep rooted not only politically but also culturally. Inter caste marriages aren't so popular in rural parts of India. The government came up with reservations in all sectors for people belonging to the lower caste without a capping limit on income. It is not based on progress against merit but rather progress against the caste you were born in. High income families can still take advantage of the system by producing lower caste certificates which still leave the poor unable to improve the standards of living even though reservations exist right from Indian Independence.
Ashok's statement is stereotypical but also contains the reason why we still have night soil pickers.

In my view, this kind of discrimination has no place on a forum like ours; whether based on gender, caste, ethnicity, religion or other.

Agree completely to your point. But there are a few posts in the Forum that may be offensive that has not been removed or questioned. Unfortunately, we do not have people from different regions contributing to the Forum. There have been several instances in our Forum survey which points biased discussions. For instance, if we had many South Asians contributing to a thread like this, the discussion would look completely different.

Another article from the one of the prominent , Indian newspapers: www.newindianexpress.com/thesundaystanda...venging-1856540.html

It shows the number of registered manual scavengers in different states. The problem is persistent at a high level only in certain states of India.
Toilet cleaners are women; septic tank cleaners are men - the solution should be gender sensitive.


Best regards,
Shobana

Shobana Srinivasan
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  • Ashok
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Re: Where there are no sewers: The toilet cleaners of Lucknow, India (Behaviour change and user psychology issues)

Thanks Shobana for trying to understand the problem.

On 3rd August, the Government submitted to the Supreme court that "Let us PRESUME that Dalits have not progressed and are in the same state as at Independence" Can you call this rational?

The wisdom of Supreme Court is being Negated in Parliament for votes.

With regards,

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

Please note that the term DALIT is very relevant for eradication of manual scavenging in India. The fight for abolition of manual cleaning of toilets by what are called "manual human scavengers" in India, is lead by Dalit leaders and a movement.

Dalit is a term coined by Dr. BR Ambedkar as a political aspiration of the lowest castes of India. Please check wiki pedia.

We have Wilson Bezwada himself a son of a manual scavenger who has been championing the ending of this inhuman practice and has won the 2016 Magsaysay Award for his work.

scroll.in/article/812613/how-bezwada-wil...eaning-human-excreta

Shobana please note that just like All Dalits are not manual scavengers, All Scheduled Castes are not manual scavengers. So there is no reason to replace Dalit with Scheduled Caste.

We are all committed to ending manual scavenging.

Depinder Kapur is a senior Development and WASH expert and is currently leading the Sanitation Capacity Building Platform of National Institute of Urban Affairs in New Delhi. He has worked with AKRSP, SPWD, CARE(Director NRM), Oxfam(Program & Advocacy Director), WaterAid India(Country Head) and WSSCC(National Coordinator). Also has 5 years of work experience as a consultant with UNICEF, FAO, WSSCC, FES and World Bank. Principal Trustee of India WASH Forum and part of a Citizens Initiative on Right to Water and Sanitation. Also worked with Ministry of Urban Development for the Clean India...
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  • sharadaprasad
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Re: Where there are no sewers: The toilet cleaners of Lucknow, India

Here is an article on theguardian describing how some of the scavengers are escaping the blackhole - www.theguardian.com/global-development/2...rs-escape-dirty-work

I agree with Depinder. Not all people who belong to scheduled castes are manual scavengers.

I also agree with Shobana. Caste is definitely a complex issue. However, all the dirty jobs are performed by people belonging to Dalit castes. Therefore, I will continue to use the term 'Dalits' until Dalits do not want me to use that term. I find using term 'manual scavengers' to 'Dalits' akin to saying that America exploited 'slaves' (instead of highlighting that all those slaves were invariably black).

Best,
CS Sharada Prasad (CSP), PhD
Independent Scholar and Photographer
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  • muench
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Re: Where there are no sewers: The toilet cleaners of Lucknow, India

Thanks Depinder and Sharada for your contributions in this thread!

I'd like to come back to Shobana's post from 20 August. There are two things that confuse me:

Shobana said:

It is not just the statements, but merely using the term 'Dalit' in the professional space is itself derogatory. The term is the reason for the backlash.


Depinder and Sharada disagreed with her statement. I checked on Wikipedia and found this:

India's National Commission for Scheduled Castes considers official use of dalit as a label to be "unconstitutional" because modern legislation prefers Scheduled Castes; however, some sources say that Dalit has encompassed more communities than the official term of Scheduled Castes and is sometimes used to refer to all of India's oppressed peoples.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dalit
(oh and if the Wikipedia definition of Dalit needs changing, let's do it; ideally by using reliable sources)

So it seems that there is no clear consensus in India about this yet. The term Dalit is not equivalent to e.g. "nigger" which is s a racial slur typically directed at black people - or is it?

Secondly, you Shobana said:

But there are a few posts in the Forum that may be offensive that has not been removed or questioned. Unfortunately, we do not have people from different regions contributing to the Forum. There have been several instances in our Forum survey which points biased discussions. For instance, if we had many South Asians contributing to a thread like this, the discussion would look completely different.

My questions:

- In my role as moderator, it is my job to ensure any offensive posts are removed straight away. Have I failed? Are there any that slipped through the net? If you remember any please do bring them to my attention. Please keep in mind that occasionally what is offensive to one person is not offensive to another, i.e. if the person used sarcasm or is simply unaware. Either way please always bring such posts to my attention so that I can deal with them. Thanks.

- We do have lots of people from different regions contributing to the forum. I would say our Indian SuSanA members are quite well represented by now. See e.g. the lively thematic discussions run by the SuSanA India Chapter, such as this one: forum.susana.org/odf-odf-and-sustainabil...ual-scavengers-india It is actually very much related to the topic of this thread. So how would the discussin look different if more people from South Asia took part?

- However, I do agree that people from Europe are probably over-represented on this discussion forum (and in the SuSanA governance as a whole, see e.g. the make-up of the core group). Do you have any particular suggestions how we could encourage more SuSanA members from the Global South to partake in the discussion forum?*

Thanks for bringing up such touchy subjects. I know it's easier to just keep quiet so I really appreciate that you "stuck your neck out"!

Regards,
Elisabeth

* If anyone wants to know which countries our SuSanA members come from, see here: forum.susana.org/forum/statistics?statsview=2

Community manager and chief moderator of this forum
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