That’s all in a day’s work for the hundreds who clean Mumbai’s muck. Plunging their arms into sludge, scraping the hide and flesh of animals knocked down by speeding cars off the streets, handling toxic hospital waste, carrying mounds of putrefying garbage to the dumping grounds. Cleaning the kind of filth most of us would not touch even in a nightmare. Would never need to.
Though it’s rarely discussed, that’s a job ‘reserved’ for the lowest castes. "More than 80 per cent of the safai kamgars in the municipality are Dalits. You won’t find so many of us in other departments," says Haralkar. "Only Dalits work with this kind of filth. Using their bare hands, bodies. We get no respect for cleaning other people’s dirt. They made Coolie with Amitabh Bachchan, but would they make a film called ‘Sweeper’?"