Mari Marcel Thekaekara describes the life of Bhangis in her book "Endless Filth." Bhangis are manual scavengers who remove human shit from dry latrines. That is the real, hard-core statement to describe the life of Bhangis, who are known to remove “night soil” as a hereditary profession in India!
Even after sixty years of independence, there are about 8 lakh Bhangis or Thottis in India engaged in the menial job of collecting and disposing human shit. And it is humorous to note few reasons for this demeaning labour to continue. Few religious sects in India do not want flush toilets as germs get killed during flushing. This act of killing germs or a human life is a sin, and so they continue using dry latrines!!! Don’t kill a germ but kill the dignity of a human being.
Woes of a Bhangi – “In the rainy season it is really bad. Water mixes with the shit and when we carry it on our heads, it drips from the baskets on to our clothes, our bodies, our faces. When I return home, I find it difficult to eat food sometimes. The smell never gets out of my clothes, my hair. But then in summer there is often no water to wash your hands before eating. It is difficult to say which is worse.”
The monthly salary of a Bhangi is Rs. 600 or Rs. 800. Even the payment of this meager amount is not regular and is withheld for six to eight months. Once, when the Bhangis went on strike for regular salary, they were arrested and put in jail under ESMA (Essential Services Maintenance Act).
Bhangis do not cook food. They beg for their food. They are not allowed to fetch water from local wells. They have to wait for someone to pour water, from untouchable heights, into their pots.
When Bhangis get a chance for self-employment, they immediately opt to make and sell brooms and baskets – the only items they are exposed to in their lifetimes. Some Bhangis earn more out of prostitution, Rs. 5 per night!
So, you have heard the stories of a Bhangi. What can we do for them? I could just write a blog post. What about YOU???