‘’With heavy hearts and dirt laden hands sanitation workers of Chennai have many poignant stories to tell.’’
Ravi, 45 years old, works in the Tiruvanmayur corporation area. He commutes 10 km daily from his home at Kannagi nagar to reach his work place. When asked about why he is not using protective gear, he replied, “We were not given protective gear in spite of repeated requests to the authorities.’’
Ravi is not the only one. Many sanitation workers in Chennai work without protective equipment risking their lives and fall prey to many dreadful diseases. They work for a meagre 5500 rupees per month. When asked about whether it is not a tough job to do, Ravi replied in a choked voice, “I vomited a week back cleaning the drainage consisting of dead dogs and cats with hands.”
Devi , a 42 year old sanitation worker commutes daily to Tiruvanmayur, her work place, situated 16 km away from her home at Mint. She spends 34 rupees daily on transportation charges. She has four sons and a daughter, all grown up. When asked about why she needs to do this job, she said ,” I am a widow and all my sons drink alcohol and do not do any work .I am the sole bread winner for my family.”
I have diabetes and many other health ailments. Sometimes I work on night shifts between 8 pm to 4 am.
“My Husband died due to his habit of drinking alcohol. Had my husband been alive, he would not have allowed me to do this job, let alone allow me to come out of the house”, she added with misty eyes.’’
Govindamma is a 48 year old sanitation worker. She is a widow and does not have any children to look after her. She stays alone in a rented house of 5500 rupees per month. She wounded her legs while cleaning the drain.
The stories of Ravi, Devi and Govindamma give us a microscopic picture of the macroscopic reality that is inflicted on the lives of sanitation workers in Chennai. These stories underscore the seriousness of the problems that sanitation workers face in their day to day life. Most of the them work on contract basis. They live at the mercy of their employers and are forced to manual scavenging without any protective gear. They get their salaries only on tenth of every month and even then their payments are often delayed.
Most of the manual scavengers are victims of alcoholism, a chronic problem that has taken many lives in Tamil nadu. It calls for an in depth investigation on the ‘’linkages between the poverty, alcoholism and manual scavenging.’’ It is ironic that the policy makers who always boast about a developed Tamil nadu remain indifferent towards their own people.