Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Manual Scavengers

The work of manual scavengers in India was featured of BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning. The next time someone mentions the importance of work to you, here's an example to counter them. This job entails taking away human waste from customers' toilets. The only equipment provided is baskets for the waste, and these often leak. The work is so disgusting and demeaning that the woman interviewed said that if she had daughters she would rather they died of hunger than do this work. The woman is supposed to be paid by individual customers, but some days she gets no pay at all and her and her seven sons go to bed hungry. Sons are not expected to work in this "job" - in this case their job is cleaning out sewage tanks. That counts as a better job.

The demeaning nature of the job is reinforced by the caste system. The woman is only allowed to point at the vegetables she wants in the market, and the trader will put them on the floor for her. If she touches any vegetables no-one will use the stall at all.

The interviewer asked the woman about politicians and elections. Her answer is something we can all relate to - there is no way of making them keep their promises.

Of course human waste needs to be dealt with, but it is hard to think of a problem that merits a better solution more than this one - and one that involves humans as little as possible. To make people do this to get money is utterly disgraceful, but the argument that any human should do a job that could be done by a machine just to get money does not stack up. This job is just an extreme example.

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