Magazine article New Internationalist

[Endless Filth: The Saga of the Bhangis]

Magazine article New Internationalist

[Endless Filth: The Saga of the Bhangis]

Article excerpt

by Mari Marcel Thekaekara

(Books for Change ISBN 81-87380-42-X)

This is a book many Indian reviewers could not bring themselves to describe. 'Water mixes with the shit and when we carry it on our heads, it drips from the baskets on to our clothes, our bodies, our faces. When I return home, I find it difficult to eat food sometimes.' Thus Leelaben, a Bhangi woman, describes an average working day in this furious account of the plight of the shit-shovellers of India. Condemned by hereditary caste roles to their lowly occupation, the Bhangis clean the municipal latrines of the larger towns in India, in some cases removing the shit with their bare hands. They endure serious health problems - death by drowning must number among the most horrific of the occupational hazards - as well as the abuse, dire poverty and social exclusion that go with the job.

A hundred years after Gandhi broke profound social and religious caste taboos by cleaning the latrines of his ashram himself, the Bhangis remain the 'lowest in a system of graded inequality', untouchable even for other untouchables. …

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