Health and hygiene are inseparable. Both need effort to maintain. The role of health care functionaries stands acknowledged and well appreciated by one and all. Doctors, nurses and paramedics are at the forefront in saving precious human lives. Municipality ground staff – who ensure hygiene in the surroundings to ward off the spread of infections are lesser known warriors. Placed low on the ladder, the service of these people is nevertheless vital. Unfortunately, they remains invisible under the pile of anonymity.
Modern sanitary system in India is just few decades old, and prior to that the onus of cleaning dry latrines was always shouldered by these people. All over India every year there are many instances of fatal casualties where sanitary workers lost their lives while cleaning drains and sewage pits. Dignity of labour is exemplified by the hygiene workers who in very unpleasant settings are risking their lives to make our lives pleasant.
Sanitation workers associated with hospitals, municipalities and town area committees actively are working with incredible commitment. Every single day tons of waste material gets accumulated. These workers clean the filth and provide us a clean living space to breathe comfortably.
Sanitary workers especially the sweepers in routine times are serving in all weather conditions to ensure our surroundings are worth living. Trash and stink from which everyone of us maintains physical distance is their work place. An inconvenient truth that many of us have to face is that this community is not only stigmatized but is also discriminated against in ways, blatant and subtle, both.
These beautiful souls are currently offering their valuable services in hospitals and quarantine centers where thousands of corona infected patients are undergoing treatment. They care more about ensuring cleanliness ignoring the apprehensions of getting infected. Wading every day through risky corridors, they are displaying a shining example of social service.
If doctors, nurses and healthcare workers are at the forefront in the fight against corona pandemic, there has been an overwhelming expression of gratitude showered by people all over the country to acknowledge and appreciate the lifesaving services of health care professionals. Be it the crowd clapping or clanking of utensils or burning of candles or flashing lights of mobile phones, men in white apron with stethoscope came into the limelight for their professional services. Amidst all such celebrations of showcasing gratitude, men with broom in their hands remained out of the frame. Our myopic vision could only capture the dominant actors and those associated with maintaining hygiene of our localities got silently ignored, and sidelined.
Thousands of hygiene workers in hospitals are a part of the human resource offering their services in the present precarious situation. Prior to the usage of sanitizers and hand wash stuff, maintenance of cleanliness and hygiene was primarily managed and maintained by sweepers only.
While sanitization of public places and fumigation operations are in full swing across the length and breadth of the country, especially in cities and towns, the field staff of municipalities and town area committees is relentlessly working to quarantine streets and public places.
The hierarchical arrangement of prestige associated with different professions is both delusional as well as discriminatory. The tag of noble profession associated with certain categories should not discredit and downplay the significant services of those who are made invisible. The present pandemic has pushed people indoors for months now. This is an opportune time to introspect and identify the nameless faces that directly or indirectly support and sustain our individual and collective well-being. They deserve love, respect and unconditional warmth that has been denied to them.
Our generosity and gratitude to applaud the services of various professionals with varied designations in present emergency should also make us realize the importance of hygiene workers and their services in safeguarding our lives and well-being. In the shower of salutations, hygiene workers need to be given their well-deserved share.
Salute to the them all!
Bilal Kaloo is Assistant Professor, Department of Education – South Campus, University of Kashmir