CHANDAN KHANNA by way of Getty Photographs
MUMBAI — 5 sanitation employees, all from the bottom rung of India’s caste device, have been selected in past due February to fulfill a vital visitor: High Minister Narendra Modi.
As cameras flashed, Modi proceeded to clean the ft of the employees, one at a time, the usage of water and his palms, a gesture meant to honour group of workers who blank bathrooms on the Kumbh Mela, a large spiritual collecting in north India.
However sanitation employees, rankings of whom die every 12 months from asphyxiation whilst eliminating waste from underground drains, have had sufficient, mentioned Bezwada Wilson, the top of the Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA), or Sanitation Employees’ Motion.
Forward of common elections that start on Thursday, the employees are reminding Modi of his promise to eliminate by means of this 12 months the follow of handbook scavenging — the cleansing, sporting or casting off human excreta from dry latrines and sewers.
“(Modi) has finished not anything for us prior to now 5 years,” Wilson mentioned.
India has regulations banning the hiring of handbook scavengers, however they’ve no longer been correctly enforced, most commonly because of issue accumulating proof and apathy by means of successive governments. Employees selecting up human waste with naked palms is a not unusual sight at railway stations.
Whilst govt estimates peg the collection of handbook scavengers at any place between 14,000 and 31,000, the SKA says the determine is nearer to 770,000, with just about 1,800 sewer cleaners asphyxiating to loss of life within the closing decade.
The neighborhood has little political energy and Modi stays the front-runner to win the election, however critics level to their situation as every other instance of lofty guarantees undone and the empty symbolism of washing their ft.
Wilson has introduced a hashtag #StopKillingUs on Twitter and demanded govt lend a hand employees to find jobs that give them dignity.
Maximum sanitation employees to find it tough to get different paintings on account of caste-based limitations, whilst many perform with out formal contracts and are ignorant of the phrases in their employment, a learn about by means of US-based advisory company Dalberg displays.
The employees whose ft Modi washed in February don’t seem to be happy with their jobs and wish an finish to handbook scavenging, they informed The Indian Categorical newspaper closing month.
One mentioned he was once thankful for the respect, calling Modi a super guy. However, he added: “There’s no distinction in our lives. We have been doing this cleansing paintings ahead of too, we proceed to do it.”
Greater than 90% of latrine cleaners are girls, and all sanitation employees are Dalits, the social team on the backside of India’s caste device.