December 23, 2014

INDIA: Maids Deemed Too Pure for Toilets Hinder ‘Clean India’ Push. Toilet Cleaning Is Only Allowed By Dalits, Known As Untouchables, Out Of Caste-System.

The caste system in India is a system of social stratification which historically separated communities into thousands of endogamous hereditary groups called jฤtis, usually translated into English as "castes". The jฤtis are thought of as being grouped into four varnas: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. Certain groups, now known as "Dalits", were excluded from the varna system altogether, ostracised as untouchables.

How did this system come about?

Early written evidence about the caste system appears in the Vedas, Sanskrit-language texts from as early as 1500 BCE, which form the basis of Hindu scripture. The Rigveda, from c. 1700-1100 BCE, rarely mentions caste distinctions, and indicates that social mobility was common.

The Bhagavad Gita, however, from c. 200 BCE-200 CE, emphasizes the importance of caste. In addition, the "Laws of Manu" or Manusmriti from the same era defines the rights and duties of the four different castes or varnas.

Business Insider
written by Kartikay Mehrotra
Tuesday December 23, 2014

At about 9:00 a.m. each day, Sudha Devi walks up to a gated house in India’s capital, removes her shoes and heads inside. She’s under strict orders: Don’t touch anything but the toilet.

Immediately after Devi’s done cleaning, a housekeeper of a higher social rank scrubs down the entire house. As a member of the Dalit caste once known as “untouchables,” Devi is used to handling messes other Indian maids won’t go near. While those housekeepers earn about $100 (6,300 rupees) a month, Devi makes about 10 rupees per toilet.

“Because of my caste, everyone leaves the dirtiest work to me,” Devi said while walking door-to-door in Safdarjung Enclave, an area less than 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the president’s house. “Most of those jobs include cleaning up after other people and doing work everyone else refuses to do.”

The housekeeper’s refusal to clean toilets encapsulates stratified social views of cleanliness that contribute to the widespread appearance of trash in India’s cities. The risk is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Clean India” campaign could fail without a shift toward more local ownership.

“Community-led total sanitation is now policy in every country except India,” said Christopher Williams, Geneva-based executive director of the Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council, a United Nations unit. “The shift needs to be in people internalizing these connections between caste and sanitation.”

‘Sense of Ownership’

About half of India’s 1.2 billion people belong to the lowest 3,743 sub-castes recognized by the government as eligible for special privileges to improve their lives. The system includes tens of thousands of additional groups, according to a commission established in 1979 to identify the “socially and educationally backward.”

In doing this, the government has harbored a culture of social hierarchy in which the lower castes are seen as responsible for cleaning, said Nikita Sud, an associate professor of development studies at the University of Oxford.

“When you look at sweepers of our roads or of our sewers in municipalities, they are always the Dalits,” she said. “This doesn’t translate to a sense of ownership or responsibility to keep the country clean among its residents. It reinforces the notion that someone else will do it for you.”

Cleaning India

Modi started the $32 billion Swachh Bharat campaign, or “Clean India” in English, shortly after taking power in May. The world’s largest sanitation program includes plans to build 110 million toilets and end open defecation by 2019, the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. The budget includes $3 billion for education, such as teaching citizens why streets should be kept clean.

“Building a bunch of toilets isn’t going to resolve India’s sanitation challenges, but Modi’s right by starting the conversation early in his term,” said Yamini Aiyar, director of Accountability Initiative, a New Delhi-based research group that monitors government-run social welfare programs. “His first steps could go a long way in cleaning up India.”

Indian celebrities and politicians have backed Modi’s efforts, and a social media campaign similar to the Ice Bucket Challenge is encouraging Indians to pick up brooms. Students are asked to take a nine-point pledge in which they promise to avoid littering and spend 100 hours per year cleaning the country.

Modi has promoted the Clean India campaign on Twitter, with more than 30 posts over the past two months. He’s congratulated those who’ve joined the campaign, including opposition lawmaker Shashi Tharoor and film star Priyanka Chopra.

Sewage, Trash

“Your children talk about going to India, but they turn their nose up at us because they think it’s dirty,” Modi told an audience at Fiji National University on Nov. 19. “I’m going to make such a country your children will want to come and see. They will never again turn their nose up at India.”

The task is enormous. About half of people in the world’s second-most populous country don’t have toilets. Some 75 percent of surface water is contaminated by sewage. India is churning out trash at a faster rate than any of the other 25 largest producers of municipal solid waste on the planet, according to the World Bank. Much of that rots outside on city streets for days on end.

Those who do pick up the trash are often of low caste. In August, New York-based Human Rights Watch called on Modi to enforce laws passed in the 1950s that ban the act of hiring workers based on caste to clean toilets and septic tanks.

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