June 03, 2006

All in one sweep

The Times of India (June 1) carries a report called "Fire in belly blurs caste lines", about how upper caste youths are applying for sweepers' posts in UP.

Not in some remote rural part of UP either, but the large cities of Kanpur and Lucknow.

Some quotes:
  • No one expected upper caste Hindus to apply as until a few years back these jobs were meant only for the "untouchables".

  • [For the men who applied] it was more demeaning to stay jobless than to take up a broom to clean the streets.

  • Earlier, only uneducated persons were considered fit for these menial jobs.
To me, it seems that the very appearance of such a report indicates the reality of caste in India. We might wish it away, or some of us might wish it away, but it remains real enough for a lot of people.

After all, why would a reporter, and her editor, think it newsworthy that "upper caste youth" are applying to become sweepers? (Would it be newsworthy if they were applying to become bus drivers? Software engineers? Cinema ushers?)

However you react to that, consider a few questions:

  • Why should these sweeper jobs have been "meant only for the untouchables"?

  • Why were only "uneducated persons considered fit for these menial jobs"? Why should educated persons not be considered fit for menial jobs?

  • Good for the men who thought it was more demeaning to be unemployed than to sweep the streets. But why is sweeping the street demeaning anyway?

    Anonymous said...

    What Dilip: Sun rises in East?

    "Upper caste" or whatever castes have been doing whatever it takes to earn their daily roti - be it sweeping streets or stiching shoes or that hair-cut housecalls.

    Timing was pretty convenient for Times of India to pick this up and make it "newsworthy". And you want to add your two bits to push a loosing argument.

    Confus-cious 2006: "Him who has no legs to support this own views turn to others with no legs; either way Humpty Dumpty comes crashing down"

    Anonymous said...

    Forgot to add Dilip:

    Brahmins apply for ‘dalit jobs’

    Udit Sharma and Suraj Misra, both young graduates, are among the applicants for the post of safai karamchari in Agra. "We have been looking for jobs for the past two years but we have failed to get one so far. We need to earn our living, and so we thought we might as well work as safai karamcharis here," says Udit Sharma.

    One of the candidates who spoke on condition of anonymity said: "It is better to become a scavenger than to become a criminal. If I do not get this job, I may have to take to crime to fend for my family, which is dependent on me for a square meal."

    In Kanpur, the number of educated upper caste applicants for the safai karamchari posts is around 38 per cent of the total number of applications, "There are some applicants who are postgraduates while others in this category are graduates," says Dr J.P. Gupta, senior health officer.

    Anonymous said...


    Of course I see no reason why upper castes should not do these jobs. But you missed pointing out that there was a lot of resistance among SC/ST that the upper caste were taking their jobs. Thats not fair!

    And yes,a post graduate sweeping floors? I think it is a waste of national resources, obviously the state has paid for his education and he wont be using it while sweeping.

    Puru said...

    I think what an individual does with his degree, is his own option!

    otherwise (just as an example), what about mechanical/civil/chemical/petrochemical etc engineers who are working as software professionals?---are they wasting resources? as they were not educated "for" IT jobs.

    Anonymous said...

    >>But you missed pointing out that there was a lot of resistance among SC/ST that the upper caste were taking their jobs. Thats not fair!

    Anyone familiar with Dilip's writing shouldn't be surprised.

    >>otherwise (just as an example), what about mechanical/civil/chemical/petrochemical etc engineers who are working as software professionals?---are they wasting resources?

    What about engineers who've studied in say BITS and American universities but are now travelling in 2nd class Indian railway compartments taking notes from railway canteen menus and blogging about it full time? Are they wasting resources?
    Not really if you ask me. As one would say in Mumabi street "whose fathers what goes"........ but nice to have a rich pappa who can take care of you. You get best education and can afford to squander it by loitering around wearing a secular socialist halo around the bulbous head.

    Dilip D'Souza said...

    confused: But you missed pointing out that there was a lot of resistance among SC/ST that the upper caste were taking their jobs. Thats not fair!

    I'm looking at the newspaper in question as I write this. Nowhere in the piece does it mention that there was resistance among SC/ST. Nowhere does it mention SC/ST. (Here, check for yourself).

    So please do tell me where you got that bit about the resistance.

    Anonymous said...

    If there's nothing wrong/menial with sweeping the streets, why don't you do it, D'Souza? Oh my toilet needs cleaning...I'll expect you over at 3 pm. well if there are reservations for lower castes in education, there probably are reservations in jobs too. The Upper Castes men probably thought the sweepers jobs were 'reserved' for the SC/STs. And shouldn't you start crying the fact that the upper castes are stealing the jobs of the lower castes now? Have they no shame? Just because they have privilege of being upper caste, they think they can muscle in on lower caste territory now? Those bastard.

    Anonymous said...


    I have recently made a a resolution about not being sarcastic with even the most inane comments, so I will try to explain.

    First, A post-graduate will not become a sweeper out of his choice but because of lack of better opportunities, ok?

    Second, due to our subsidized higher education, the post graduate has not paid for his higher education, the state has. How has his degree enhanced his chances of doing a better job as a sweeper?

    A degree for its on sake makes sense only if you pay for it, the state could have used the funds for primary education.


    My bad. I had already read this story elsewhere so did not bother checking your link.

    Please see here.

    I quote-

    ''They (Brahmins) get enrolled but they never do the menial jobs. They cannot do it. We are protesting against the Corporation as it will mar our employment opportunities, which has been our job for ages. What will we do if they take away our jobs?" said Shyam Lal Valmiki, President, Sweepers' Association''


    Dilip D'Souza said...

    confused, I'm getting an error 404 when I try to get to that page.

    In any case, I think that's ridiculous of Shyam Lal Valmiki to say. I hope the municipality pays no attention.

    Dilip D'Souza said...

    My mistake, I find I mis-cut-and-pasted your link (if you can believe it). I did it again and did not get a 404 and read the article.

    I still think it's a silly thing for that Shyam Lal to say.

    HP said...

    Ok Dilip.....So if a lower-caste guy says something like this, its just silly. But when a upper-caste guy says it, then its narrow-minded, bigoted, intolerant, insensitive,....and all the other words you can find.

    Sorry but I would call that HYPOCRISY

    Anonymous said...

    Allow me to preempt DD's response -

    Please point out where I used the words narrow-minded, bigoted, intolerant, insensitive

    Rahul Siddharthan said...

    Here's an excellent piece by Siddharth Varadarajan in the Hindu about caste prejudice in the media. He doesn't name his former employer, but Delhi-ites will remember that it was the Times of India.

    He recounts a story of dalits in UCMS, but no doubt it applies to AIIMS and the other striking places too. I've heard friends of mine from IITs use similar derogatory language apparently without even thinking about it.

    Anonymous said...

    my god! caste is a reality in india! i never knew!

    does gender discrimination also exist? and religious conflict? and terrorism and poverty?

    i dont know what we'd do without dilip's finger on the nation's pulse.

    Dilip D'Souza said...

    Rahul, I was startled by that Siddharth Varadarajan article. I shouldn't be, but I am always surprised to hear derogatory terms like that used so freely.


    Dilip, thanks a lot for writing on the anti-reservation issue. You may recall that I had clashed swords with you on the Narmada issue, but on this issue I agree with you completely. For my ideas regarding reservations see here.