Two India’s sewer workers who were cleaning drainpipes in Southern Bangalore suffocated to death on Sunday.
Other two sewer cleaners in Mumbai died while in the line of their work two weeks ago.
Unions have said that many sewer workers lose their lives in India on a yearly basis as a result of failure to be provided with the correct equipment.
“When I lift my hand to my mouth to take a bite of food, I feel like it smells of sewage,” says Binod Lahot, a sewer worker in Mumbai.
“But I still eat it. Why? Because I have to stay alive and go to work tomorrow.”
Mr. Lahot is not aware how old he is but he says that he has been in the job for over 20 years.
In most times, you will get him underground using his bare hands to scoop out sludge while he tries to unblock the sewer lines in the city. It is not an easy job but it is a vital one. The reward is minimal since individuals like Mr. Lahot earn as little as %5 per day.
Swarms of cockroaches are his surrounding daily whereas he does not have a mask to keep him safe from poisonous fume that is emitted by sewage.
The most dangerous part of his job is when he occasionally goes deeper underground while having no rope that can assist him. He is terrified of drowning if all of a sudden there is a sewage rush while underneath. That has happened at one time to him.
In 2014, a 45-year old employee lost his life while cleaning.
His wife Rehana Kazi who lives in a one room home said that her husband decided to do the dangerous job so that he could educate their 3 children. Mrs. Kazi cries as she tells of how her elder son dropped out of college to provide for the family.
A survey that sewer workers union did reveals that Mr. Kazi is among the 28 workers who have died in the city from May 2014.
Mumbai’s municipal corporation does not have data specifically for sewer workers, but last year it said 1,386 conservancy workers had died over six years since 2009.
In addition to the sewer workers, conservancy workers consist of the everyday city sweepers and ferry garbage collectors.
The civic authority has commissioned a study to assess the reasons behind the number of deaths, but officers from the municipal administration declined to answer specific questions from the BBC on why no safety gear or insurance is offered to sewer cleaners.
One of the possible answers could be the manner of hiring.
Whereas close to 30,000 workers are usually employed by civic authority to clean Mumbai clean, the risk-taking sewer workers are employed on a day-to-day basis as casual laborers via contracts.
Also, the system for providing safety gear is a disorganized one.
The Indian govt started to collect separate tax last year that is meant to finance major cleanliness campaign. The sewer workers are integral to that plan.
Their work will remain to be a difficult one, but it does not have to be risky.