Last weekend, Manjunath, 33, a manual scavenger from Davanagere in central Karnataka, found himself among engineers and enthusiasts looking for solutions to the unhygienic conditions sanitary workers face. It was a hackathon at Bangalore’s Indian Institute of Science, where, based on the experiences Manjunath and his co-workers recounted, the ideas ranged from safety gear to sensors for toxic fumes. Manjunath cleans pit latrines and drains in his shorts and a loincloth. “We shouldn’t be doing this, but who will feed us then?” he asks. “We have been doing this all our lives.”
Manjunath reckons there are about 50 manual scavenging workers in Davanagere. Usually, he works in a team of six or seven who share the wages—Rs 700-1,000, depending on the size of the toilet pit. Each job takes a few hours in unbearable stench. “We drink so we cannot smell anything,” he says. On an average, they clean two pits a day. At the end of the workday, which sometimes stretches till midnight, he would have spent about Rs 200 on brandy, often leaving only Rs 150-200 to take back home.