Nama, a sewer entry professional, resides in Cuttack and commutes to Bhubaneswar daily for work. Name Nayak’s was introducted to sanitation work by his uncle who is a sanitation worker himself and has worked in providing sanitation services for over 5 years. His work schedule extends from 7 am to 7 pm, with no breaks in between. He avoids taking leaves, knowing that a backlog of complaints would pile up in his absence.
Nama has received comprehensive training in Bhubaneswar that encompasses the operation of different tools and machinery such as grabbers and jetting machines. In the past, the thought of physically entering the sewer to remove sludge used to intimidate him, and rightly so. However, with the mechanisation of processes, manual entry is no longer required. Nama and his fellow sanitation workers, participated in training and capacity building sessions, which have helped sensitize them on the importance and proper use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and checking for hazardous gases before entering sewerage chambers, keeping safety as a priority.
Even with such protection, however, taboos are difficult to surmount. People often speak to Nama while standing at a distance, judging him due to the nature of his work. He expresses frustration that people often fail to comprehend the challenges involved in sanitation work. When he visits sites for servicing, people often view him and his fellow workers as an “inconvenience” not understanding the importance or role of their services.
In the thick of a demanding profession, Nama appreciates the presence of Garima Grihas, a private rest facility that provides lockers, water, and other amenities for sanitation workers to rest and have adequate space to clean up, giving not only a much-needed respite after performing strenuous labour but also acts as a site which helps preserve their dignity. They no longer have to depend upon others for basic amenities such as food and water, nor do they have to travel with a dirtied uniform. Nama hopes that with the continued demonstration of hygiene he, and other sanitation professionals, can be treated with dignity.
Nama holds a deep-seated aspiration for his children to receive a top-notch education, driven by his unwavering belief in the power of knowledge and the doors it can open.