Bhubaneswar :Dasra, a strategic philanthropy organisation,has launched a groundbreaking documentary titled ‘Tracing the Tracks’ to spotlight real, uncensored stories on the lives and journeys of sanitation workers. As part of the documentary, five sanitation workers from Odisha namely, Babuli Nayak, Namma Nayak and D Siva along with two members of Bahucharamata (a Transgender Self-Help Group) Tanushree Behera and Sital Kinnar, have been featured. While these sanitation workers play a crucial and unmissable role in ensuring the safe management of human waste, which benefits all citizens, their journeys and voices remain absent from public consciousness.
Dasra is the Secretariat of the National Faecal Sludge and Septage Management (NFSSM) Alliance: a collaborative body driving discourse on faecal sludge and septage management (FSSM) forward in India with a key emphasis upon the need to ensure safe and dignified livelihoods for sanitation workers.
The thought-provoking documentary ‘Tracing the Tracks’ has been produced by Teepoi, a film production company based out of Bengaluru, Karnataka. Dasra partnered with the Urban Management Centre (UMC), whose crucial work and direct engagement with sanitation workers has helped with documenting sanitation workers performing different types of duties across the sanitation value chain.
India has more than 5 million sanitation workers,with around 11,000 validated sanitation workers in Odisha, who play a crucial role in managing human waste across the entire sanitation value chain. They face the brunt of deep social stigma associate with handling human waste and often have to work in hazardous, unsafe conditions. Due to the informal nature of the sanitation sector, workers are not properly recognised for their work, lack access to safety equipment, adequate and timely remuneration and coverage under social protection schemes. ‘Tracing the Tracks’ seeks to build awareness and recognition of sanitation work. The documentary showcases the lives of these unsung champions and presents a solution-oriented approach, showcasing solutions and best practices for the implementation of safe and dignified livelihoods for sanitation workers.
Meghna Malhotra, Deputy Director, Urban Management Centre says, “Over time, India’s expanding urban population has exerted considerable pressure on sanitation services in urban areas. Consequently, State and national schemes have prioritized enhancing sanitation infrastructure. Improving the working conditions of India’s 5 million-strong sanitation workforce is also now becoming a focus area. States like Odisha have taken the lead by implementing GARIMA, a state-wide scheme that promotes safe and dignified livelihoods for sanitation workers. The GARIMA initiative, implemented by the Govt. of Odisha in collaboration with the Urban Management Centre, has made significant progress in furthering occupational health and safety while also making efforts towards breaking the intergenerational cycle of labor in sanitation. Previously unrecognized, sanitation workers are now acknowledged as skilled professionals under GARIMA, granting them the recognition and dignity they deserve. Witnessing the positive transformation in the lives of sanitation workers in Odisha, the state of Tamil Nadu too has implemented the Sanitation Worker’s Development Scheme and nationally- the NAMASTE scheme is being implemented by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to ensure safety and wellbeing of sanitation workers.”
Featured in the documentary, Babuli Nayak, Sewer Worker (WATCO), Bhubaneswar, Odisha, said, “I consider my work to be very important. If we don’t clean the sewer line, people in the vicinity may fall sick. Earlier, I used to face health issues every few days but due to the GARIMA Scheme, now there are facilities for our safety. We have received recognition and now I feel proud of the uniform I wear. However, people get repulsed by us and ask us to go away. I want to ask these people to not be disgusted with us, because what we do is service to mankind.”
Talking about his work and how mechanisation has helped, Namma Nayak, Sewer Worker (PSSO) from Bhubaneswar, Odisha, said, “I have been working as a Sewer Entry Professional (SEP) for around 6 years now. Compared to earlier times, our working conditions have improved as we now have machines for different tasks like grabbing and sucking out the gas and we receive training to operate all these machines. We do not enter the manhole anymore, save exceptional circumstances when manual entry becomes necessary, but even then safety protocols have to be duly followed. Before entering the manhole, it is compulsory to check for the gases present underground and to wear the PPE kit uniform for our safety. I am happy that these provisions have improved our safety during work.”
Sharing her past journey and details about her work, Tanushree Behera, FSTP Worker and President of Bahucharamata Transgender group from Cuttack, Odisha, said, “I am well educated and before joining the sanitation sector, I tried searching for jobs in various other sectors. However, I couldn’t find any job due to my gender identity due to which I faced discrimination and social prejudices. So, we decided to create a self-help group in Cuttack and received training for sanitation work. We have been provided with complete support right from the training, including travel expenses, stipends, safety equipment etc. We are provided with gloves, helmets and other safety gear. No job is small and we are proud of our work. Initially, our friends and family opposed this job but we gradually got their acceptance when our work received due recognition.”
The complete documentary can be viewed on https://youtu.be/B30mMDyfQuU
By showcasing the lived realities of sanitation workers, ‘Tracing the Tracks’ hopes to ignite conversations, inspire empathy, and advocate for better working conditions and recognition for sanitation workers across the nation.