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Posts Tagged ‘Sanitation’

Ganesh Chaturti

Ganpati procession in Lalbaug, a neighbourhood in central Mumbai

After ten long days of prayer and celebration, of dancing on the streets and recklessly blocking traffic, of beating drums and reciting devotional bhajans, it will be time to bid farewell to Lord Ganesh.  Ganesh, widely regarded as the bringer of prosperity and remover of obstacles, will not slip away unnoticed.  Rather, devotees will make sure he is seen off in style, so that he may triumphantly return next year for a similar round of celebrations.

On the morning of September 3, 2009, hundreds of thousands of devotees — hands filled with some combination of coconuts, flowers, uncooked rice, and coloured powder — will flock to bodies of water.  They will loudly chant, “Ganpati bappa morya, pudcha varshi laukar ya” (Hail Lord Ganesh, return again soon next year) while dancing and dousing each other with colour.  They will then say goodbye to the beloved elephant-headed god by immersing their idols into the sea.  The idols, historically constructed of clay, are intended to dissolve in minutes and become part of the ongoing circle of life (a fitting choice, given how Ganesh himself was supposedly concocted out of sandalwood paste). (more…)

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Photo credit - Newsweek

Photo credit - Newsweek

“OMG, isn’t it, like, so disturbing to see all those beggars in India, with their disfigured limbs and stuff?”

You won’t believe how many times I’ve been asked that question. The sad part is that after living here for so long, it’s actually not that disturbing. It’s part of life. Regardless of how one may choose to respond (pay up, ignore, recoil, stare-but-try-not-to-stare), beggars have broadly been accepted as part of India’s daily urban fabric. Which is saying a lot, considering how this group includes children with severe malnutrition, men with missing limbs, broad-shouldered hermaphrodites, women carrying under-bathed infants, mentally retarded adolescents, and blind elderly couples. In certain societies, some of these guys may have a shot at joining a sickly voyeuristic circus; here, many have almost been normalized.

Despite India’s ability to absorb most “unusual” individuals, there is one sub-group that will probably always be shunned: the manual sewer workers. This sub-class of Dalits, known as balmikis, is forever destined to live on society’s extreme fringes. Unlike their brethren in the developed world, who are often provided bunny suits and respiratory gear before entering serpentine manholes, these Dalit sanitation workers usually enter with little more than a loincloth and a split bamboo stick. Upon entering the antiquated sewer pipes, they literally swim through pounds of liquefied feces to clear any blockages, all the while taking care to not touch the cockroach-laden walls. They continually breathe the offensive smell of human excreta, along with her toxic first cousins, Methane and Hydrogen sulfide. When they come up for air, they sometimes bruise themselves on the manhole’s rim, dizzy from the gases.

Within India’s silently strict social hierarchy, these Dalits are the untouchabliest untouchables. Even other so-called “untouchables” won’t go near these guys. (more…)

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