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Good question: If manual scavenging was illegal, how was he doing it for eight years

Manhole cleaners don’t only work in hell-like conditions, they live in similar conditions.

Published: 08th March 2017 11:58 PM  |   Last Updated: 08th March 2017 11:58 PM   |  A+A-

Police stand near the manhole where sanitation workers died in Bengaluru on Tuesday (Nagaraja Gadekal | EPS)

Express News Service

BENGALURU: Manhole cleaners don’t only work in hell-like conditions, they live in similar conditions. All the three deceased workers who died in Bengaluru’s manhole tragedy Monday midnight lived cheek by jowl in deplorable conditions in sheds in Nekkundi.

On Wednesday, as the shame and horror dawned on Bengaluru’s citizens, workers from the sheds started pouring into the mortuary at Bowring Hospital to pay some sort of tribute to someone whom the city doesn’t notice except when its drains are choked.

One man, a supervisor, remarked, “Where’s the MD?” He meant Anjaneyulu, the MD of Anantharaja Constructions. “His house is empty. He’s taken his family with him. He hasn’t showed up at our sheds or at the hospital. He is only sending mediators.”

Asked why they manhole cleaners were sent without any safety gear to clear drains at night, the supervisors said, “Forget safety gear. The workers have to work

with their phone torchlight to clean the sewer. When the contractor asks us to go, we have no option but to go. There is less traffic at night and the roads are empty. That’s why they are sent at night.”

The wife of one of the victims, Thatta Thavitayya, of the Monday night horror didn’t even know that her husband was being made to do work deemed illegal by the highest court of the land. Cradling her Karthik (4) and Murli (6), Thatta Gannemma (32) poured out her anguish: “My husband started cleaning manholes eight years ago. He died cleaning them.”

She had gone to their village (Basivalasa in Srikakulam district) for Sankranti and left the man to earn the little that sustained them. “If it was illegal, how was he doing it for eight years?” she asked. Good question.

Her husband’s uncle L Appalarammaiah, who accompanied her on this funereal journey, said he didn’t know how to describe his community to people in this foreign land. “We don’t know what you would call us here in this state. We are just poor.”

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