Broken Glasses!

BROKEN GLASSES – An empathetic act that turned into a nightmare!

If I say you are also contributing to the sad plight of manual scavengers, how would you feel?

News of manual scavenging, the deaths, the plight of their lives,  the lifelong impact – we have heard and known enough. But here is a question!

Are we consciously or unconsciously contributing to make the situation worse?

Sadly the answer is yes. 

As a society, we have become so used to seeing manual scavenging that we often forget how it takes the fundamental right of dignity for them. And while we really want to do something to do our bit, we often don’t know what to do. They are such small simple acts that we can easily avoid doing. Walk with me to know it yourself.

Like many of the people out here, I am a tea freak. Most of the friendships in my life have also started and sustained over tea kadais.

It was a long day in the scorching sun. The bike ride and the sweat really called for a break. what is a break for me without tea?

Tea is to me as cold beverages are to many – a drink of refreshment and rejoice. 

Modern – a tea shop in Kaiveli(a place near Velachery, Chennai) is our friendship hub. Shafal – one of the tea servers handed me over my usual flavoured tea. (I don’t have to place an order :p)

The tea gave me the break I needed but oops I stamped on a glass which was kept down. and cling it goes. Broken! 

A usual happening in a tea shop on a busy evening!

I informed the stall about the broken glass and didn’t stop there. I was concerned about the injury that it would cause to the stray animals and humans who might walk over it barefoot. I chose to dispose it safely and so I flung the broken pieces to the open drainage running nearby. Throwing in dustbins is dangerous for animals and corporation workers(humans) who handle it during waste collection and segregation.

Happiness filled my mind as I walked out of the scene only to be haunted by guilt 2 days after the incident.

Fast forward some months, as part of my internship at Solinas, I had a meeting with a few manual scavengers at Tambaram. The issues they face because of their ‘livelihood’ were beyond what we already know! One of them said, ” many times we are sent as replacement of trucks to clear the sludge just because we cost Rs.200 less.” Can you imagine?

They come to our houses, apartments and other places to clean our septic tanks. And well you can never imagine who cleans their septic tanks at housing boards, where they live? Of course, they themselves. So much for Self-employment!

Adding on to their plight, our society for centuries has operated from the mindset that there is a certain class of people who are made for this job.  And well, over the years, they have also come to believe only humans can do this job. It made me angry just to listen to their stories of discrimination. What changed my mental and emotional state and added to its plight was when they listed down the things they find in septic tanks which make their lives even more miserable.

Napkins, condoms, broken slabs, stones, water bottles, paper pieces, plastic covers and GLASS BOTTLES. The same glass bottle which I intentionally threw in the drainage to safeguard a corporation worker. Glass bottles leave them with multiple scars and injuries while clearing the sludge. And well, these are the reasons why sewers get blocked in the first place!

80% of the things that they mentioned have been tossed carelessly into the drainages multiple times by my hands, sometimes while trying tricky football kicks on the road or while enjoying an evening walk with a beloved friend on a phone call.

Now that hit me hard. REAL HARD. 

Though not a conscious action, the effect is the same. We are adding more pain to their lives.

It took me a while to process the whole conversation at the end of which I decided one thing.’ I will be extra conscious of what I do with the garbage that I have in hand’. I believe that’s the least we can do as an individual to make their lives a little better, a little less painful- conscious withdrawal from contributing to a horrible plight.


Written by:

Prabakaran
Communications intern,
Solinas Integrity Private Limited.