Sanitising India or Cementing Injustice? Scrutinising the Swachh Bharat Mission in India
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Occupational competence and division of labour in India have historically been linked to social institutions of caste, class and gender. Labour related to sanitation and waste disposal has perpetually been assigned to the most backward caste groups. The reality of the caste system and the revulsion of upper caste groups from any physical contact with dirt and human waste, or with people dealing with waste and sewage, has had many implications for the state of sanitation and cleanliness in India. The national policy on sanitation and its flagship program the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), seems to ignore this caste reality and the conditions of people involved in waste and sanitation-related activities. SBM focuses on infrastructure building for ownership and access of toilets and not on dealing with sludge and sewage, conditions of sanitary workers and their rehabilitation. The technology used in the toilets being constructed, their sustainability, safety and retrofitting needs also requires critical assessment. Any policy for a sanitised India or Swachh Bharat will only be successful if it considers the notion of caste, of ritual pollution associated with human waste and dirt in India and removes the shackles of caste that have chained few marginal communities to such occupations, thereby making the enterprise of sanitation and cleaning in India truly egalitarian and democratic, in the sense of opportunities and participation.
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