– a term used in Indian English for the removal of untreated human excreta from bucket toilets or pit latrines.
Considered as one of the lowest, polluted and most degrading occupations, manual scavenging is pretty widespread in our country with about 2.5 lakh people involved who earn less than ₹ 340 a day.
Their lives are, to be blatantly honest, terrible. They are discriminated against, they stay in filth, and deaths in their community are common. The most shocking of all facts is that generations of only ‘lower castes’ are involved in this even after a law was passed in 2013 which declared this occupation illegal.
This poem is dedicated to those who we might see everyday but not really.
I live in a hole,
Do you see my soul covered in a thick layer of skatol?
I, a man of no age, born to an underprivileged family
We haven’t rose above this, for many a century.
Who am I, you ask?
An untouchable, bereft of a mask.
I collect your garbage, sweep your city street,
Clean your gutters, and clear the shit your excrete.
I was just a child once.
But I was treated nothing more than a dunce.
I hated school.
Because everyone was so cruel.
Oh! the oppression I face, you can’t imagine.
With this casteism ingrained in our society, we’re still at the margin.
Are you wondering what my life is like?
But would you be able to handle it when the reality strike?
Cockroaches and insects of all sorts,
I am swarmed by them at all times, you must have read that in the reports.
The drains are so deep, bearing a gloomy gus,
They can easily fit a double-decker bus.
I stay inside for hours clearing the rut,
I come out shivering, feeling completely shut.
Yet I get little appreciation for the courage I possess,
And I often wonder if the distress is ever going to be replaced by progress.
I don’t have a mask or any gloves on me.
I use my hands to pick up the garbage and my shoulders to carry.
This one time I thought I was going to die.
A sudden rush of sewage caught hold of me, I wouldn’t lie.
I have been scared too, you know.
I have been scared of disappearing in a single blow.
My father died like that.
I, sometimes, think about him when I see his favourite straw hat.
When I lift to my mouth a morsel of food
It smells like sewage, so merciless, so crude.
But I still eat.
To keep my family alive, to let their heart beat.
A little more,
But, sometimes I wonder, what for?
I despise my work and I am embarrassed,
If I reveal to her, will I still be caressed?
I don’t talk a lot.
Enough have I fought.
I even belong here?
Sometimes, all I wish I could do was disappear.
And so, I drown in spirits every night.
My escape, my armoured knight.
And get sick too often.
With every disease I catch, I go a little closer to my coffin.
This poem is a minute glimpse into the lives of these people. Their imaginable reality can only be felt when we put ourselves in their shoes.