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Caption:Kaverappa, 54, being lifted out of a pit by Muniraju, 37, in Bangalore, India. August 2019.
Credit:WaterAid/ CS Sharada Prasad/ Safai Karmachari Kavalu Samiti
Usage Rights:(2) Images may be used for all purposes, globally, in perpetuity. Images may NOT be used by third parties.
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Interview:Interview with Kaverappa:
"My name is Kaverappa. I am 54 years old and I have been doing this job for almost 35 years. I was 14 or 15 years old when I started working in this locality as a construction worker. I did not have any specific job. So people called me to help me with their work. If I worked from 9-5, I would get ?15-20 as payment. This was forty years ago. One day I was called to empty a pit. They offered me ?100 to do a job that would take only half a day. The work was not as difficult as construction work. But as it was a disgusting job, nobody was willing to do that work. I and a few others started doing it whenever there was an opportunity. Using bullock carts and oil drums, we carried the waste to farmlands. 15 years ago I purchased a used truck. It helps me carry waste farther, if need be. However, we try to get rid of waste in specific places. Farmers like this waste as it is a very good fertilizer that leads to great yield.

Our current locality was not part of Bangalore. Very small portion of Bangalore had sewer networks. Majority of the people who lived in the outskirts defecate in the open. Many people had dry toilets in the backyard. Very few had pit latrines which needed to be emptied. People from specific castes forced people from other caste to clean these dry latrines. Those workers emptied the dry latrines and carried the contents in baskets to nearby farmlands

It has been more than 35 years and I have not been treated disrespectfully by anyone. My work might be disgusting but I always keep myself clean. I do not have any bad habits. I don’t drink alcohol. I always wash myself thoroughly after work and before eating or drinking anything. These days everyone asks us to use safety gear - particularly shoes and gloves. But you cannot work wearing those. It is not easy to get into or climb out of the pits if we wear shoes or gloves. I have never had any health problems or accidents. However I do know of people who have died during sewer cleaning. One of the people I know was inside a manhole trying to unblock it. As soon as he unblocked it, the manhole started to fill up. Fortunately his friends were standing above the ground, right outside the manhole. They pulled him out before he drowned.

I charge ?700 per ring but trucks charge only ?500. However, households prefer to call us instead of trucks because we clean everything. Truck operators cheat people. They don’t take out all the sludge. They do their jobs quickly and leave. You cannot trace them if there is any problem with the toilet or the pit. In our case, we open the pit fully, we get inside and take out all the sludge. Homeowner can witness the quality of work after the pit is fully emptied and hence trusts our work.

My work has blessed me with a small home and has helped me start a family. I have built a new house for my family a year ago. It took me more than 25 years to save money. I cannot get loans to build houses. I have nothing to provide as collateral and the plot on which the house is built has no title. I am trying to get the title so that my daughter will not have any problems going forward.

We were a large family. Sadly, my parents are no longer alive. Two of my brothers died because of health reasons. My only sibling who is alive is my sister. She is living with her family in a nearby village. My wife, my daughter and my son-in-law live with me. I have a grandson who recently turned 10. I also had a son who died because of ill health.

More than 10 years ago Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (corporation of Bangalore city) people contacted me and my fellow workers to rehabilitate us. They came to our place, inspected the work we did, took our family pictures, called us for several meetings, made us open a bank account saying that we will get some money. But nothing happened. We did not even get an ID card that recognizes us a manual scavengers. When enquired, we were told that ?40000 has been deposited into our account. But we never saw any money in our account. When we went to ask BBMP, we were told that they will find out and let us know in the next meeting. Several additional meetings happened but money never showed up. We asked them to give us mechanized trucks or provide alternative employment. All we got was more meetings.

Everyone wants us to quit this job. But we don’t have an alternative. Government is not providing us with other jobs nor are we receiving any financial support to start something of our own. Let BBMP employ us. They should employ us as workers with 35 years of experience, not as a fresher. When ask BBMP, they tell us that we are old and cannot work much. I agree that I am 54 years old. I can surely work for 10 more years."

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