“The contractor does not give us boots or gloves. We go down there in our underwear, holding our breath”
Municipal authorities in Delhi still employ people to clean sewage drains. There are very few pumping trucks, and these are mainly used in important areas. Employing people is much cheaper. Also, our sewage drains get clogged with garbage, polythene and sometimes animal remains, which cannot be removed with a machine. This is where I come into the picture.
Working for the municipal authority, I get Rs 100 for a day’s job, of which Rs 25 is my contractor’s share. He deals with the officials and we work for him. Most of the time, I don’t get the entire amount promised, as it usually comes to us after the contractor is paid by the authorities, which may take time. If I fall sick or miss work, I lose the day’s wage. Now, with a few months left for the monsoon, there is a lot of sewage work in the city. The rest of the year, I do odd jobs like unclogging drains at people’s homes or collecting garbage.
I have heard about people finding dead bodies in sewage drains. Thankfully, I haven’t seen or found any. I once found some animal flesh in a drain, but that was because there was a butchers’ market closeby and the waste would often land in the sewage drain.
I don’t like my job. I do it to make ends meet. I have been doing this for the last seven years and get only this kind of work now. I would rather be a construction labourer or sweeper. After a day’s work, I go home and bathe with soap given to us by the contractor. But I am still called a jamadaar and get only janitor type jobs. The contractor does not give us boots or gloves. We go down there in our underwear, holding our breath, and then use spades to scoop out the filth. I have burns on my feet and back because they don’t give us any protective gear.
(This person has been working as a cleaner in Delhi for seven years)