“Hummare jawan Siachen mein khade hai” (Our soldiers are standing in Siachen)
This became the motivational quote fellow Indians shared with each other as they stood in anaconda long queues in front of ATMs post demoneitization. Any question raised about the stressful situation was met with this answer. While Indians gloat about soldiers, there exists a different type of soldier serving in the sewers of urban India.
Every year, India loses 51 men in uniform in Kashmir. Surprisingly, we also lose a similar number of lives, about 44 annually, cleaning urban drains. This national average, however, has been outstripped. In 2017 alone, 90 deaths (and counting) have been recorded by Safai Karmachari Andolan run by Magsaysay award-winner Bezwada Wilson. In the meantime, 54 security personnel have died so far this year. The numbers are fast catching up. It could very well be said that it is safer to get posted as a soldier in Sianchen than live in India’s city as a sewage worker.
Most deaths occur due to lack of protective gears.
India may be mourning and reminiscing the deaths of its soldiers at the borders, but these sewage workers die out of asphyxiation in our sewers without any protective gear. Adding salt to their wounds is a meagre salary of Rs. 4,000 to Rs. 6,000 if hired by a private party and between Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 15,000 if hired by a municipal corporation. A soldier on the other hand is paid Rs.25,000 on average. Terrorists in Kashmir seem to be a lesser threat than our drains.While both jobs are crucial for keeping our country safe and running, one profession’s death is labelled as ‘martyr’ while another’s easily preventable death is lost without any government ever taking steps to make their profession safer. While justification of every citizen’s pain is compared with that of Siachen soldiers, the irony of sewer cleaners never surfacing on magnanimous campaigns of Swacch Bharat never really gets justified.