Guest post: There was so much suffering, so far beyond endurance


Originally a comment by quixote on “If you are from the Mehatar caste, you have to do this work.”

This post gave me a fullblown flashback. One of my most vivid memories from visiting India decades ago was the look in the eyes of one of the sweepers.

His job was dealing with a public toilet I was walking past. I can’t imagine who would use one of them because there were piles of shit everywhere inside (I could see partway into the door) and plenty outside from people who no doubt didn’t want to contend with the conditions inside. Indian food can be hard on the intestines, so the piles were not necessarily well-formed. He was sweeping this unspeakably foul glop with one of those short no-handle brooms. He was avoiding looking at anyone.

(I asked someone once why they didn’t at least have longhandled brooms, so the sweepers didn’t have to squat right down next to the shit. Well, proper handles were only for proper people. It just was Not Done to give the scum of the earth long handled brooms. Really. That was the answer.)

Well, I must have been staring (little horrified Western white kid), because he looked up at me. His eyes were completely glazed. There was so much suffering, so far beyond endurance, there was nothing left. I’ve only ever seen that expression one other time, in a picture of a person who’d had his hands chopped off during the terror in Sierra Leone.

There are aspects of Indian culture which are a big contribution to humanity. And there are aspects which annihilate people like the sweepers, like widows, like so many millions there. It’s a vast, huge, gigantic human rights issue.

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