featured caste system




I do not know when and how the ‘varna’ system was created in India, but the fact is that it has existed for several millennia. It runs in our veins, even though it has been officially abolished by our Constitution, seventy odd years ago. I must, therefore recount the lines which I have picked up from the Internet, which say:

Varna system is extensively discussed in Dharma-sastras. The Varna system in Dharma-sastras divides society into four varnas (Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishya and Shudras). Those who fall out of this system because of their grievous sins are ostracised as outcastes (untouchables) and considered outside the varna system. Barbarians and those who are unrighteous or unethical are also considered outcastes.





If you think that your job is odious or disgusting, have a look at the following pictures.

 whatusee on his face

What do you see on his face?

 unfortunate man

…And what do you think of the job of this unfortunate man?



Another unfortunate man, condemned to stench and filth for life…


What crime has this man committed to be forced to do this dirty work?



The look in his eyes says, “Zindagi se badi sazaa hi nahin…aur kya jurm hai, pata hi nahin!”



They must enter this hole to feed themselves and their children, day after day!

If your job is odious, how would you describe the work of these unfortunate creatures, who enter the manholes to keep the sewer water flowing. If they do not do their job properly, our houses shall be filled with unbearable filth and stink. Their job needs a combination of several adjectives to describe. Here are some, which I picked up from the thesaurus:

Revolting, repulsive, repellent, repugnant, disgusting, offensive, objectionable, vile, foul, abhorrent, loathsome, nauseating, nauseous, sickening, hateful, detestable, execrable, abominable, monstrous, appalling, reprehensible, deplorable, insufferable, intolerable, unacceptable, despicable, contemptible, unspeakable, poisonous, noxious, base, hideous, , gruesome, horrendous, , atrocious, awful, terrible, frightful, obnoxious,  unpleasant, nasty, distasteful…

Believe it or not, the fact is that this odious work is going on around us, day in and day out. In return for what they do, they receive a pittance. Their job is not just filthy, it is hazardous. They contract infections, disease and some even die while performing their thankless job. And we take no note of it. Ever so often, the poisonous gases in the sewer result in fatalities. I read a paper in which the research worker estimated that the total number of sewer scavengers killed annually is almost equal to the soldiers who are martyred each year!

Why do the Sewers get choked?

No. This is not a celestial disaster like the tsunami or an earthquake. Sewers become clogged because of our acts of omission and commission. We, the peoples of the town are to blame. We release invasive affluent substances into the system, and over a period of time, they form an impregnable block in the line. In some cases, we damage or steal manhole covers, and then throw garbage in the holes, to stop the natural flow of the drain. The following pictures tell the tale:




We, the peoples of India, are the root cause of the problem!

Is this misery unavoidable?

The answer is an emphatic ‘NO’. Machines have been invented, and manual scavenging has actually been declared illegal. More recently, the students of an engineering college in Kerala have rigged up a robot which can effectively clear blocked sewers. Given below, is a link to what they have to offer. They have developed a robot, which can ‘take the man out of the manhole’. A link to their very appropriately called device, “Bandicoot” is given below:


I have a gut feeling that many other mechanical systems have been devised to save our men from the torture of entering the gruesome pipes. Yet, every now and then, I find a news item, informing me about the death of an unfortunate scavenger. I am quite certain that  in civilized countries, men are not required to enter sewer pipes.

The fate of ‘Laws’ in our beloved country.

Every five years, we elect men and women as MLAs and MPs. Their job is to enact laws that govern us. We pay taxes and give them a lot of privileges and perquisites to do their job. They debate on the ‘bills’ and make passionate speeches and make tall promises. At the end of the day, they enact laws. To enforce their ‘acts’ we have the administrative machinery and we pay a heavy price for that, too. In this specific case, we have a whole bunch of laws to keep ‘men out of manholes’. Given below is a link to a recent decree of Delhi Government for ready reference:


This law, like many others, is apt to be violated. And there is good reason to suspect that. For a decree to be executed in letter and spirit, you need more than a piece of paper. In this specific case, there are several good reasons why the unfortunate men will continue to enter those ghastly sewer lines:

  • The machines required for the purpose have not been provided. And even if they are there, the workers do not know how to operate them.

  • Men are willing to do this dirty work at a very low cost.

  • These wretched men have inherited this skill from their ancestors…and they have been taught to believe that it is their ‘dharma’ to perform this function.

  • Last, but not the least, the scavengers have no other skill. If they do not unclog sewers, they will starve to death for want of gainful employment!


Until we are able to completely mechanise the sewer maintenance process, protective gear of the kind shown below must be provided as a mandate. And this should include a pipe through which the worker can inhale clean air, to protect him from harm.



If we cannot take the man out of the manhole, let us protect him, and let him breathe clean air!


Root Cause of the Problem and an Unorthodox Solution

Sewers get blocked because of a few well known reasons. These are: tree roots growing into the pipes; sewer lines caving inwards due to poor design; industrial effluents released into drains, and domestic garbage thrown into broken or stolen manhole covers. Nearly all these faults can be remedied if timely remedial action is taken by the concerned authorities. People who violate the sewer norms deserve to chastised, and the punishment should be so severe that it acts as a deterrent. An outlandish solution that occurs to me is that those who damage sewers should be forced to clean them. This would also be in line with our traditional ‘Varna’ system.

I would go one step further. I vociferously suggest that all those who commit heinous crimes such as murder, rape and kidnapping should be sentenced to cleaning sewers. They should be forced to do this job in full view of their kith and kin, and their pictures should be given wide publicity. This will reduce crime more effectively than the current legal processes. Just imagine the psyche of seeing a picture of a brother or friend in the following situation on a potential criminal:



A lose-lose situation

In the management schools, they teach us to identify ‘win-win’ solutions. In the present case we are faced with a situation, which leads us to its diametrically opposite aspect. Our worthy representatives in the legislatures need to address all facets of the problem. Just as accidents and divorces cannot be stopped by making them illegal, the men shown in the pictures above cannot be relieved of their misery by an act of parliament or legislative assembly. However, it is possible to begin the reform process by creating public opinion. And that is the precise purpose of this paper.


A Lyrical Tailpiece

Poetry is best written in Indian languages. Given at the end of this piece is a poem written by  the late Krishna Bihari Noor. It describes the plight of the scavengers very appropriately. Three stanzas of this masterpiece were rendered by the ‘King of Ghazals’ the late Jagjit Singh. I do not think that there is any need to translate them. A link to the rendition is given below:



An Input from Joseph Thomas

When I sent this piece to Thomas for a preview, here is what he said,

 In Bangalore, there’s a machine mounted on a truck.  They are on contract to the Bangalore Water Supply & Sewerage Board.  In addition, we have to tip the operators Rs 500 each (4 of them).  They are in great demand and the operators make good money.  The operating part of the machine is like this :  

 jthomas inputs

Sewer cleaning services sewage in bangalore near me madipakkam.

The rearward jet propels the mouse forward and makes it rotate.  The mouse and its shaft are inside a flexible casing.  Please google sewer cleaning machine + Bangalore.


And here is the ‘ghaazal’ for the Urdu lovers:









  1. Lt Gen AKS Chandele says:

    Dear Sir,

    Saw the TV clip. Totally agree that this inhuman practice needs to be stopped and a mechanical solution be devised to replace it. Our engineers need to find a solution and I shall certainly spread the word around.

    In the interim provision of the following should be mandated:

    - provision of protective gear such as gas masks, boots, gloves etc.

    - instrument to check presence of poisonous gas.

    - equipment for speedy evacuation of workers.

    Warm regards,


  2. soorkhan says:

    Always in admiration for your causes Sir,

    Like Joseph’s remarks, even in my land of abode (Kyrgyzstan – not among the developed countries), city authorities organize cleaning through special purpose vehicles. Even domestic septic tanks, where necessary, are cleaned up accordingly.

    CHALTA HAI & lack of sensitivity is the mindset in India.

    Endless prayers for your efforts & creating awareness.


  3. Brig PT Gangadharan says:

    Forwarded to all friends

  4. RB Tyagi says:

    Internet is as powerful as the press. This message will reach its destination, hopefully

  5. Udai Shankar says:

    I think there is an urgent need to educate our people and to tell them how to use the sewer lines. Most of the blockages are preventable.

  6. SC Jain says:

    Dear Gen Surjit
    The pictures are very revealing. It has been rightly said that ‘a picture tells a thousand words’

  7. S K Gupta says:

    The poem at the end is most appropriate.
    The couplet,

    ‘sach ghate ya bdhe to sach na rahe
    jhooth ki koi inteha hi nahin!

    It tells a profound truth. This otherwise unknown poet has become note-worthy by Jagjit singing it!

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Dear Gupta
      You are right.
      No one had heard of “Noor” I believe he was a postal clerk, who wrote poems as a hobby. Now the last stanza has come true. KB Noor died a few years ago. But this poem has made him immortal!

  8. D S Maini says:

    The thankless job of these menial workers is as important as that of fire fighters and doctors working in trauma centres. Life comes to a stand-still if a sewer line is choked. One can not breathe, until these men arrive. Yet I have never seen any one saying a kind word to them.
    In fact if one of them comes and seeks a glass of water, people give it in the worst glass in the house. In fact I once saw a house-wife asking the poor man to drink it out his cusped hand!
    And the same woman brings out the choicest crockery when a rich guest (who may be a black marketer or smuggler) comes to their house!
    Are we not hypocritical?

    • Surjit Singh says:

      And if a person from these communities enters the kitchen, women used to wash and sanitize the entire place…for reasons of hygiene.

  9. B S Yadav says:

    I was reminded of a movie filmed on Coal Mines. I think it had Amitabh Bachchan in the lead role. It was a moving theme.
    It is my fond hope that some one will act—and act fast!

    • Surjit Singh says:

      The title of the film was ‘Kaala Pathhar’ I have a very vivid memory of the theme.
      I wish some one would make a movie on this theme!

  10. Hitesh Sharma says:

    The plight of construction workers and men involved on building mountain roads needs to be studied and reported in the same way.
    Their lives involves a lot of risk and their conditions of living are pathetic.

  11. V S Randhawa says:

    If I had control over an Engineering College, the very first project I would give to the students would be ‘to develop protection gear for scavengers’

  12. S K Bhatti says:

    Heart rending!
    The NDTV programme should be made compulsory viewing by all our parliamentarians!
    S K Bhatti

  13. SJS Chawla says:

    All the unfortunate sewer cleaners belong to a low caste…and they cannot tell the story themselves; being illiterate. And so we are not able to get a first hand account of their misery.
    Thanks for telling us about them.

  14. Prakash Bambawale says:




    • Surjit Singh says:

      ‘God’ is there…and that is why things do happen.
      Count your blessings…Telephones were a luxury until a few decades ago. Today the poorest of the poor has a ‘mobile’ in his hand.
      Electric power situation has improved…and it is becoming better every day.
      It is my firm belief that we will be able to ‘take man out of the manhole’ very soon.

  15. Lt Gen Harbhajan Singh says:

    Dear Surjit Ji,

    Fully endorse your thought provoking initiative.

    This needs to be sent to


    We are talking so much about Chandigarh being a Smart City. Let us also look around us and sort out ages old practices.

    Warm regards.

    Harbhajan Singh

    Lt Gen

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Dear Gen Harbhajan
      Thanks for writing to Gen MS Kandal.
      I am told that the situation is far better in Chandigarh than elsewhere…including Delhi.
      But there is enough room for improvement!

  16. Brig Anil Adlakha says:

    An Eye Opener!!!

  17. Col Jagtar Singh says:


    No one holds barred. There is no bharat bhand for them & no job reservation. Quota is there for them because the vote bank is so small.

    Kahan hain woh log jinhe hind pe naz hai.?


    • Surjit Singh says:

      Thanks. You have reminded me of a very soul stirring song!
      There is another one:

      “Voh subah kabhi to aayege…”


  18. Lt Gen RK Gaur says:

    Forwarded for your information.

  19. Col ABS Sidhu says:

    Hello Surjit,

    Very well written blog .

    It is a pity that even after 70 yrs of

    Independence we have not been able

    to reduce the misery of the down trodden .

    All are policies are only on paper and they

    cater for the benefit of the rich and mighty .

    Rich are getting richer and poor more poor .

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Dear ABS,
      We can help, by speaking up!
      We also have to vote sagaciously.
      “Bad people are elected by good people, who do not vote!”

  20. Pramod says:

    (Message received via Zal Kabraji)


    Good morning

    There are people to get inside manholes even in US and Europe. But the difference is, they wear proper personal protection equipment. And they are qualified too.

    In India, everything works based on Jugaad, including the governments, defence and Other organisations. I don’t know when was the last time our forces went into the battle with the right weapons, dresses and other equipment. It is only their high spirits and commitment to the country that is helping them to defeat the Pakistani bastards every time.

    The irony in India is, if the government releases a recruitment advertisement for 10 posts of Manhole cleaners, 20000 Engineers, 5000 doctors and 50000 general graduates will apply for this shitty job, but none of them want to join the Indian defence jobs as they don’t want to face the enemy bullets

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Dear Pramod and Zal,
      India missed the Industrial Revolution, because the ‘Raj’ did not let technology enter into our holy land.
      We have to catch up, and we are doing so. Only, there is a need to quicken the pace, and have the right priorities.

  21. A similar tragedy occurred near Hitec City ,Hyderabad a few months back where a couple of sewage cleaners were sucked in and lost their lives.
    It is high time that the government bring a legislation to ban this manual scavenging.

    ” We call these people dirty because they clean our DIRT ”


  22. Dave Sood says:

    There have been many deaths in 2017 of workers cleaning gutters and sewage drains.In Feb 2018 Delhi Jal Board has purchased sewage cleaning machine.
    Humans cleaning sewage drains is barred by law.

    You can see the image of the machine at

    there has been a movement in all cities in the right directions. Hopefully all these guys will get their life back in perspective.

    • Surjit Singh says:

      You are right!
      In some places, the machines have already taken over.
      In Chandigarh, for instance, we have never seen men having to do the dirty work. A truck appears, and soon the sewer line is opened.
      However, in Panchkula which is so near us, the Sector 20 blockage took almost a week to be restored. It was only when the press blew it up, that the authorities got into action.

      • Dave Sood says:

        Nothing happens in this country till it is blown up by the media.

        Municipal Corporations are there for show. No drains are maintained . No mosquito protection is done.

        Collection of Property Tax is paramount.

        Our NDMC( looking after Lutyens Zone) has no problems because they work. 24*7 electricity, water, well maintained Parks, Clean roads and no sewage blockade ever.

        Wish all will follow their work ethics.

  23. Joseph Thomas says:

    It is high time that this cruel and degrading practice is stopped. But for an accident of birth, any one of us could have been forced to do such work.

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Truly said!
      Since all these wretches come from an unfortunate class, we do not identify ourselves with them. And that is why things are not moving fast enough!

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