The Plight of Safai/Sanitation Workers in Pune City: Issues and Challenges


Dr. Santosh D. Sabale

Assistant Professor, J. P. Naik Path, 128/2, Centre for Educational Studies, Indian Institute of Education, Kothrud, Pune.



Over the last two decades, the informal sector in India immensely leads to the infringement of the labour laws and social security measures for workers which enacted by the Constitution of India. While social scientists argued the forces of globalization in the Indian context could create adverse condition to the informal labour for driving the informalization of labour process which got affected peoples’ employment, livelihood and incomes. This article is based on my doctoral work in 2012. In using the ethnographic method, the present article attempted to explore increasing plight of the caste based scavenging/sanitation/Safai labour and labourers in the informal employment in Pune. To understand the changing forms of labour activities over a decade in sanitation and conservancy departments of Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) in regulating enforcement of the contractual system and mechanization of the scavenging labour process, this study intends to draw the case studies of contract workers across informal employment such as crematorium operators, garbage collectors, toilet cleaners and street sweepers. In this respect, the study attempts to employ the framework of ‘Dirty Work’ in relation to the stigmatized scavenging occupations which emerged from previous occupational studies. The study has been argued that how so called the ascribed customary right of scavenging castes are trapped their future generation in the vicious cycle of poverty and social exclusion. The increasing informalization of sanitation work in Pune has reproduced perceptible forms of precarious worksites in sanitation and conservancy work in Pune and thereby a rise of ingrained stigma and occupational hazard and risk. In conclusion, the discourse of dirty work helped us to derive miseries of sanitation/safai labour and labourers from the marginal worksites. The process of informalization of labour has caused to deprive the livelihood of workers and also pushed them to the fringe of society. As far as the youth generations of sanitary workers are concerned, most of them by their castes belonging to Dalits and Scheduled Castes are continued monopolizing in traditional caste based contractual scavenging employment in order to secure the job security and to get rid of inevitable exclusion.


KEYWORDS: Dirty work, Contractualization, Informal sector, Occupational health, Traditional customary right.



The former Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh once made a statement that cumulative increments in inflation could lead to create widespread social discontent from the labour market in India in which 90% of its population is engaged in the informal sector or unorganized sector without any indexation of income and inflation.

While social scientists argued the informal or unorganized sector have a crucial role for the development of economic sectors and contribution to the national domestic products, savings and capital formation. The informal sectors render the economic opportunities to the people to get involved in the production manufacturing process. India’s informal sectors systematically infringed labour laws and social responsibilities secured by the constitution of India to more than half size of the working populations for their social security and inclusive growth under such processes.


Pune City has above 99% of urbanized tehsil due to the rapid growth of industrialization and IT sector and rural to urban area migration, employment opportunities and transportation facilities which cause an overall urban growth of a region. The urban population in India increased from 62.4 millions in the year 1951 to 377.1 million in 2011. According to the Census of India, 2011, Pune District is the fifth urbanized district in Maharashtra state having 94.29 lakhs population.The worrying trend is the increasing rate of informal employment even in the organised sector. Ever since the initiation of the liberalization policies in the early nineties, informalisation of jobs has become a matter of concern. Profession is going to increase, as has happened in case of sanitary/Safai workers. It has argued the sanitary workin India is regarded as dirty work not only in terms of the formal labour but from the legal procedure also.


According to Pune Mahanagar Palika Employees Union, nearly 13,000 sanitary and conservancy workforce of Pune is engaged on the permanent, contractual and temporary employment basis where 8000 of 13,000 sanitary workers having employed under formal organized employment of Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC). As many as 5000 sanitation/safai workers are working on the contractual basis as sweepers, toilet cleaners and garbage collectors across 14 ward offices of the PMC. In fact, the civic engagement of PMC Health Department is regarded to be essential service for the city. Safai-labour’ is meant of those workers engaged in the sweeping, scavenging and related works. In other words, the Safai-labour refers to those members of Dalit scavenging groups working as sanitation workers for state and central local bodies; having a pubic character (government departments, municipal corporations, and educational institutions receiving grants from the state governments like schools, colleges and hospitals).

With this respect, the processes of informalization and mechanization have predominantly been deteriorating informal low-skilled and menial jobs of SCs. As a result, the work participation of SCs is under represented despite of the existed minimum wage laws and the appointed Safai commissions and committees for the socio-economic entitlements. It may be argued the process of informalization associated with policy of neoliberalism have been an important to capitalists. Informalization of work has far reaching consequences not only on the living condition of workers, but also on their ability to organize. There are several theories and explanations of the informalization of labour. The definition of the informal labour in fact varies that country to country, union to union, and scholar to scholar. The most common one though has been the ‘informal sector’ understanding of the issue that focuses labour conditions in particular economic sectors which are outside formal regulations and of control in developing countries, particularly in Africa and Asia, or developing countries in general.


Today the unorganised or the informal sector account for more than 90% of the workforce in the country and almost 50% of the national income has been generating from the concerned sector. Drawing on the Government reports, the definitions indicate the ambiguous nature of informal employment in India. It is evident that the lack of job security and social security are key characteristics of the informal employment. In order to understand informalization in India, one needs to go beyond the definitions as they get unable to provide sufficient inputs to study the conditions of informal workers. It is crucial to observe dynamics of informal economy including informalization in the formal sector and the precarious working condition of informal workers.


The labour workforce in India was enumerated by 317 millions in 1991. of  this, a mere eight and half percent (27 million) were engaged in the formal sector, whereas about 290 millions were engaged in the informal sector (Davala, 1995; Bhowmik, 2009). Along with, women constituted as one third of population has immensely engaged in informal sector and one seventh of the workers employed in the formal sector without any index of the informal employment status. Along with the growth of the informal sector, the labour market exclusion and discrimination are practiced both in hiring services and wage payment by significant numbers in the villages. Belief in purity and pollution also affects hiring of Scheduled Castes (SCs) wage labourers in the housing construction. In a sizable number of villages, the SCs were forced to carry forward their traditional occupations which are considered to be unclean occupations (Thorat, 2006). The globalization process is defined by declining the government’s role in economic governance and expenditure on social welfare and by the exclusion of non-educated and non-skilled persons from job opportunities, the compulsion for scavengers to stick with their traditional occupations.


Parasuraman (2010) argues that regardless of economic, social and demographic contexts and national political differences, all nation-states have embraced neo-liberal policies in order to link with international trade and competitiveness in a globalised world. The forces of globalization have created conditions for the informalization of labour. Thus, the labour can be classified the direct wage-workers in capitalist’s production; labour force in informal enterprises linked to the capitalist enterprises in formal economy through sub-contracting putting out and; labour force in informal enterprises outside the circuit of capital. Globalization has its particular impact on each of these labour forces in the Indian context. International Labour Organization (ILO) (2004) puts “Globalization involves the changes in the economic structure, relative prices, and consumption possibilities and patterns, which, in turn, affects peoples’ jobs, livelihood and incomes”. ILO defines the informal sector as large-scale economic activities that remain outside the world of full time, stable and protected employment. In the name of labour-intensive reforms in India, there are occurred massive ‘informalization’ or fexibilization’ of work in the formal sector in developing and developed Asian countries. The ‘regular’ or ‘standard’ employees are now outnumbered by ‘irregular’ or ‘non-standard’ agency, temporary, casual, part-time, migrant and subcontracted workers.


Regarding the level of participation of women in Indian workforce, the labour market processes are moving towards massive insecure and vulnerable forms of labour utilization, and the condition of women is worsening. They have to combine with productive and reproductive roles and making them more vulnerable. There is the gender division of labour on the workplaces manifesting in a nature of work performed and remuneration for it. Women are largely confined to low paid jobs involving less skill than men. From informal workers, women represent a more vulnerable group. Women workers in the informal sector constituted 91% of the total women workers. Women often enter the labour market as secondary earners in the household but they soon become important contributors to the family income. Employers prefer women workers as they are docile, willing to accept inferior work conditions and a lesser wage and do not engage in unionization. Women hardly claim for permanent contractual employment. They are considered to be easier for the termination from services. Based on these situations, the life cycle changes such as marriage or child birth can be used as absolute causes to terminate their employment. Gender discrimination encounters by from the period of their entry in the labour market. Gender discrimination is manifested in the form of fixing lower wages, poor working condition and fewer possibilities for promotions over supervisory positions. The female workers in informal sector were found to be working more from their own dwellings compared to the male workers.


This article attempts to argue that the challenges to the informalization of scavenging and safai labour are enormous in which a sole labour reform could completely address it. It also helps investigate a phenomenon of ‘informalization’ of Indian labor force post reforms and wish to highlight the nature and causes underlying it.


The study reviews the labour laws and programmes of the government of India since post-independence times for the betterment of the informal and contractual workers as follow:

1) Minimum Wages Act, 1948:

The minimum wages was firstly evolved for fixing the remuneration of workers in the industries where the level of wages was substantially low as compared to the wages for similar types of labour in other industries. Under the provisions of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, both the Central and State governments shall fix, review and revise minimum wages of workers employing in scheduled employments under their respective jurisdictions. Minimum Wages Act fixes the minimum rates of wages for workers employed in the scheduled employments ‘Employment of Sweeping and Cleaning’ in the central sphere.


2) Bombay Provincial Municipal Corporation Act (BPMC), 1949:

This act was also enacted for Pune and Pimpri- Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC). The civic bodies in the cities are mandated by the act to provide for public receptacle for garbage, transport of garbage and its final disposal in such a manner that is not detrimental in the interests of public health. Citizens are required to deposit garbage in receptacles provided by the municipalities and placed in public areas. The Municipalities are also required to undertake the sweeping in public places, roads, markets and open spaces, and gutter, drains sewage and channel cleaning, and fumigation.


3) Report of Social Security for Unorganized Sector (2004):

Indian government appointed Sengupta Committee for the requisite socio-economic amelioration of informal workers in India. The committee redefines the concept of informal or unorganized workers to elucidate their severe problems. The unorganized sector consists of all unincorporated private enterprises owned by individuals or households engaged in the sale and production of goods and service operated on a proprietary basis and with less than ten total workers’. The employment status can be categorized in urban and rural domains; unorganized sector; casual; unorganized sector; regular workers; unorganized sector and; self-employed. The committee has made a flexible plan over the welfare and social security of the informal workers in terms of the regulation of condition of work, growth of the employment and productivity as well as issues relating to finance to unorganized sector enterprises for eight-hours working day with at least half hour break; one paid day of rest; a statutory national minimum wages to all wage workers and home workers; penal interest on delayed payment of wages; no deduction of wages in forms of penalties; right to organize; adequate safety equipment on workplaces and the compensation against accidents; provision of basic amenities on the workplace; health benefits including: hospitalization benefit for workers and their families.


Reviewing the protective laws for workers from the informal sector, a question has been raised regarding the growth of informal workers in India has increasingly remained its stronghold and displaced the formal services due to the failure of existed government labour laws malpractices in labour departments, increment of the private firms and organizations, and a deficit ratio. The existing literature on informalization of labour has profoundly focused upon categories of occupations, either the blue collar or white collar, which face the precarious workplace condition and occupational health. In addition such categories of white collar jobs such as dentists or medical practitioners are also interpreted in literature sphere to be involved. But there is dearth of literature in the correlations of informal occupational jobs and the caste-ridden engagement in context of the term dirty work In this article, it has been pointed that the concept of dirty work may be clearly used to understand an implication to caste ridden scavenging occupations in the process of technological advancement of public civic institutions in India. In short, the concept of dirty work has considered in this study as conceptual and theoretical tools to explore the occupational stigma, identity and exclusion among the informal and marginal workers.


The central idea of the article lays the understanding of precariousness of informal dirty works due to the agenda of neoliberal state by adopting the informalization of labour and privatization policies within sanitation technologies. Drawing upon the central idea, this article is based on my doctoral work which was conducted in Pune in 2012. The present study is to investigate the plight of manual scavenging castes and labour in informal sector by employing the ‘dirty work’ as a conceptual tool. In this context, the study touched upon various issues of scavenging castes who are mostly engaged in precarious occupations such as the crematorium operators, garbage collectors, toilet cleaners and street sweepers.



1 To understand the phases of increasing informalization and casualization of labour in Pune;

2      To explore the impact of informalization of Safai/scavenging labour process;

3      To draw the narratives of the contractual workers in the emerged trends of mechanization and technology in Sanitation;

4      To explore the relationship of the growing informality, dirtiness and precariousness of labour.


Issues of ‘Dirty Work’ and Stigma in the Informalization of Labour:

Recent research has focused on the structural change in government labour policies and the causal impacts on employment growth in many countries of the world. The literature demonstrated the labour market rigidities, poor skill levels, increasing competition from imports as factors inducing creation of informal employment and the decline of the formal employment opportunities. The present study sees the discourse of dirty work and informalization of labour as a theoretical and conceptual framework to grapple the typologies of dirty jobs in the informal economy in the Indian context.


In this respect, the process of informalization could extend the economy as a whole and entails freeing capital from constraints of regulation. (Breman, 2001a: 4818). Unni (2001: 2361) inferred the informalisation usually could take place broadly in two ways. Work is pushed out of the factories and formal work situation in small-scale industries, homes and informal situations. That is, there is an international trend in subcontracting of work and a consequent increase in informal work, often in home-working. Secondly, the workers who remain in the factories or in formal work situations are governed by looser contracts and obtain fewer social security benefits. That is, there is an attempt on the part of the employer to reduce his liabilities.


In the present study, the impact of informal contractual system in PMC Safai/scavenging labour is depicted from several issues of adversities; the occupational health and safety, subcontracting system, fatalities, injuries, absenteeism, unprotected personnel, and job training. Breman (2004b:403) argued that the informalized labour in India is a colourful arrangement of irregularity of working people which scratches around for a living close to or at the bottom of urban society and which, in the overwhelming majority of cases, both lives and works in extremely precarious circumstances. In this regard, the results show the plight of scavenging as a dirty labour within informal sector from their socio-economic elements.


In regard to the notion of ‘dirty work’, it is explained that the possession of dirty jobs in informal sector may be devastated the feelings of occupational dignity. In social science literature, there is dearth of literature on the occupation based dirty-work and stigma. In Western context, the dirty work is considered to be reusing of things, tempering society’s rampant consumption and reducing the amount of garbage; people throw into landfills and incinerators. The occupational dirty work can be categorized as ‘undignified labour’; ‘stigmatized occupations’; ‘castebased occupation’; ‘polluted job’; ‘low-qualified job’; and ‘low-skilled work’. To theorize the concept of ‘dirty-work’ with reference to India, it varies several nomenclatures in the arena of sociology in general and the social sciences in particular. The ‘dirtiness’ is a social construction: it is not inherent in the work itself or the workers but is imputed by people, based on necessarily subjective standards of cleanliness and purity. Dirty work represents a type of necessary evil in the society. According to Handbook of Sociology, Work and Industry (2016:42), the ‘dirty work’ defines, ‘an occupational activity which plays a necessary role in a society but which is regarded in some respects as morally doubtful’. The actual work practice is seldom discussed by the managers, organizational theorists, organizational behaviorists, and other business-oriented scholars and writers.


Hughes propelled the theory of ‘Dirty Work’ in which Hughes underlined the institutionalization of dirty works and processes of identical stigma in everyday life for members of society. The dirty work was passed between and within occupational groups, typically flowing down the ladder of prestige. Hughes (1962) invoked the term dirty work to refer to tasks and occupations that are likely to be perceived as degrading. Hughes precisely argues that the dirty workers handle the distasteful tasks that are necessary for effective functioning of society that others can continue to regard themselves as clean and, therefore, superior. Attributing dirtiness to others effectively devalues them and enables one to ignore a necessary and otherwise unavoidable aspect of one’s role set (Ashforth and Humphrey, 1995). Hughes emphasized that the dirty work frequently is viewed by societies as unimportant or trivial. The stigma comes from the view of the work as distasteful if not disgusting, as necessary but polluting. More than a half-century ago, Hughes began to examine how performing society's dirty work affected the workers who carry out such tasks. Hughes used the term dirty work in reference to occupations and tasks within them that are widely perceived as degrading, disgusting, or demeaning to the individuals and groups performing them. In society, there is a demand for various forms of work that tend to be perceived by the people as a dirty-work in slaughter-houses, maid services, exotic dancing, and so on and this perception stigmatizes those who perform the work (Hughes, 1962). The stigma inherently derives from the dirty occupations performed by individuals and groups, not from characteristics of individuals and groups themselves. Ashforth (1999) argued that the stigma of dirty work foster the development of a strong work-group culture and defense mechanisms that transformed the meaning of dirt and moderate the impact of social perceptions of dirtiness. Moreover, they identified dirty work by physical, social and moral taints. Physical taint takes place in jobs associated with dirt, garbage, sewage, death, bodily fluids, or dangerous conditions. Employees face social taint when their work requires a servile relationship to others (e.g., maid) or regular contact with stigmatized people (e.g., criminals). In the Hughes´s original theoretical formulation, work could be ‘dirty’ into several ways; it may be simply physically disgusting. It may be a symbol of degradation, something that wounds one’s dignity. Finally, it may be dirty work in that it in some way goes counter to more heroic of our moral conceptions. Subsequently, Hughes defined dirty work more succinctly as tasks that are ‘physically, socially or morally’ tainted but did not elaborate upon these terms. Later, the researchers who invoked the dirty work concept is hardly defined it explicitly, but their applications were consistent with a seminal notion of physical, social, or moral taints. Feminist understanding of ‘dirty work’ is identified in terms of cleaning, food preparation and service, and laundry. While private household work is and has always been almost exclusively the domain of women, public cleaning and food preparation and service jobs have historically been less dramatically segregated by sex. Due to contrasting composition of the groups of workers, the occupational transformation of non-nurturing reproductive labour has led to significant changes in overall sex composition. These non-nurturing reproductive labour occupations have similar content (cooking and cleaning) are performed by different locations (private homes versus institutional setting). Thus, there are both high and low prestige dirty occupations in dirty work occupations. The informal scavenging worker is an example of low prestige and caste-ridden dirty occupation which carries all forms of taint. Based upon available literature about the plight of scavenging labour in the informalization of labour in Pune city, the research questions are thereby proposed;


1      How does the scavenging labour become a rigid caste-based occupation wherein sanitary/Safai workers begin to think that is their privilege and right to do the hereditary occupation of scavenging and manual jobs? What are subjective positions of exclusion?

2      What forms of the occupational health and precariousness could be faced for the sanitation workers in Pune?

3      How is the discourse of ‘Dirty Work?’ with regards to the scavenging labour perpetuated the social and occupational stigma and health hazards?

4      How do the sanitary workers perceive their multiple exclusions across life domains?



In the study, the ethnography method was employed along with the participant observation. The purpose sampling method was used to capture the sites of contractual labour in Pune city. The selected case studies of contract sanitation workers such as the crematorium operators, garbage collectors, toilet cleaners and street sweepers were drawn to record oral narratives over changing character of Informal scavenging labour in regard to the explore the relationship of the dirty work and with the attached stigma. The case studies of the contact workers were conducted by preparing the unstructured interview schedule and the focus group discussion (FGD) with Pune Mahanagar Palika Employees Union.


Analysis of Caste, Stigma and Scavenging Labour:

To explain the working and living condition of the contract sanitation workers in Pune City, the study sought reasons for the plight due to the changing practices in the sanitation system with the adoption of the rampant mechanization for garbage collection and the sanitation technology by local urban body in Pune City.


Increasing Mechanization and Contractualization of Work:

Since the enforcement of the government for the privatization policy in civic local bodies in Maharashtra in last five years, the occupational health and economic insecurity of the contractual Safai labour in PMC wards are worsened. The mechanization of sanitation tools and equipments is the main cause to have insecure workplaces. In the PMC sanitation department, the process of mechanization has advanced the manual scavenging occupations in terms of changes over closed containers and removal of rubbish fast. PMC launched the sophisticated sanitation technologies i.e., the road shooting machine along with the garbage motor vehicles such as bulk refuse carrier, dumper placer and compactors, wheelbarrows, comfortable garbage lifting buckets; and the jet-vehicle for sweeping and scavenging cleaning purposes which are mostly replaced by the work of street sweepers and toilet cleaners. The changing structure in formal sanitation work activities have been reshaped workers to engage in the workplaces into the most precarious manners. However, the workers are unable to use the new tools. The workers have no feasibility rather they mismatch the utilities. However, the aim of sanitation technology is to execute the advanced technologies to reduce the physical and mental exertions of sanitation workers and hence helping them to minimize their routine absenteeism. To the gender of point of view, the women sweepers are usually worked with the wheel-barrow carriers in PMC wards are always uncomfortable, when it fully loaded; women find it very difficult to push it on the roads due to heavy weight of garbage. However, most of sanitary workers claimed that the advanced equipments provided by PMC hardly make any differences in their jobs and workplaces; whereas such technology created threats than improved and renovated their skills. Workers contend the sanitation technologies are heavily responsible to increase the contractors and subcontract agencies in the PMC sanitation department in which some workers regarded the contractors for guaranteed traditional caste –based occupational security.


The study covered an interview of Sandeep, a contract worker, who is hired as diesel furnace operator of the Yerwada crematorium in PMC ward. Sandeep narrated in the following words;


“The contract workers labourers in Yerwada crematorium are subcontracted by the private labour contractors. In my routine work, I have to dispose and burn the unclaimed and orphan dead-bodies and corps of the deceased people which are found in outskirts Pune city and its townships. With regard to occupational insecurity, though I earn Rs.3000/- per month through contract job, I have to work in a consistent job and insecurity, it regularly occurs due to the physical infection from unclaimed dead bodies which produce a toxic fumes and gases while burning the bodies in diesel furnace. I usually get sick from minor fever, cough, and deadly headache. On workplaces, some caste fellows have been got infected by severe respiratory diseases from the disposal and contamination of the dead bodies in last several years. In order to ignore the work hazards, I get smoke, tobacco and the excess intake of country liquor on the workplaces to avoid the stinky poisonous odour and gases. My generation is probably living under serious threats of long-term unemployment and nuisance. In most of times, the uneducated youth belonged to SC - Matang castes are predominantly hired by our own caste sub-contractors for the crematorium work and contractors are earned profits. We have no ray of hopes to be dreamt our further life due to low education level.” 


Occupational Health and Safety:

The health of informal sanitary workers is also affected due to the risky living and working condition and of limited access to health care safety. The informal sanitary contract workers hardly use of the safety tools. Mostly, the informal workers react to have irregular and uncertain circulation of safety tools on monthly basis. Conversely, the workers are even recommended by their employer to bring brooms, cleaning tools and equipments by the own expenses. In the circulation of safety-tools and equipments which are provided to control mental and physical adversities. However, the safety equipments are not regularly provided to workers due to the mismanagement and whims of the ward officials. In ward areas, sanitary workers are probably contended upon ward official’s unwillingness for circulation of safety tools and relevant skill training to prevent the accidents, casualties and unhygienic on the workplaces. In case of the unskilled or semi-skilled, supervisory or monitory workers, sweepers and mehtar, the labour contractors hardly provide them essential tools like hand gloves, gumboots and uniforms, masks, sewage rods, safety goggles, rain-coats and soap or bleaching powder. In conclusion, the labour contractors never consider occupational health safety of workers. The contractors are probably reluctant to pay the compensation over tools and the compensation over accident casualties on the workplaces.


Ramchandra, a garbage collector, expressed his anguish in his work as follow:

“I usually work in the night-shift in vegetable market. The market area is probably overcrowded during a day by the city commuters, buyers, vendors and hawkers. Tones of perished vegetable waste are generated by vegetable sellers, wholesalers in market yard. In my daily work in the market, I have to work in three shifts. There are worked barely 30 garbage collectors. I usually clean the market yard, streets, and the sewage along with three other fellow workers. Various kinds of perished and scattered vegetables have to be cleaned at the night without taking any break. I usually get troubled due to stink odor in my workplace. I have to collect and load the vegetable waste without safety tools. Many times, I have got injured by pieces of broken glasses because most of the drunken people using the place to drink and also for defecation. In order to ignore such troubles, I have to take regular liquor while working in the night shift. Unfortunately, my living and working condition is never recognized by the contractors and PMC officials. We can be terminated any time by labour contractors without giving any reasons. The contract workers are not entitled to social security in terms of health insurance policy, provident funds and minimum fixed wages, weekly holidays and medical leaves. The labour contractors hide the information regarding the wage and salary to PMC.”


Health Condition and Occupation related Discrepancies:

Sanitary workers are required to assign the road cleaning, markets, and cleaning of gutters, drainages and sewage channels. Barely archaic equipments and implements are provided to workers, which include traditional brooms, basket and spades, gumboots, gloves and masks etc. The filthy waste is lifted and carried away by the workers with bare hands. It causes eye irritation and often leads to sore eyes and inflammation. Most of PMC workplaces of the sanitary workers are seen to be hazardous and precarious due to the nature of activities carried out with stinky odour, noise and chamber toxic gases. Workers are mostly unaware about health hazards and risks. The work is troublesome and it is exposed with infections. Picking, cleaning and sorting garbage from dustbins, buckets on the streets, workplaces. The garbage collectors are to face a greater health risks than the PMC menial workers. Working with solid waste is caused to be responsible for chronic health problems, such as injuries, back pains. The severe infection is caused from the handling hospital waste. Unlike the health hazards, the nature of social stigma is experienced by Safai and sanitary workers in the access to health services. Most of them are likely to suffer from intermittent illness and sickness along the fever, cold and cough, malaria, typhoid etc. On the contrary, the women sanitary contract workers are intermittently suffered from the chest pain, anemia, vitamin deficiencies and gastro intestinal problems.


Lata, a 19 years old woman, narrates;

“I have to feed my family. My family has been suffering from petty loans which borrowed from the money-lenders in mu vicinities. Earlier I used to work as a domestic worker, and then I switched it over and got in street sweeping under PMC contract for looking after the household responsibilities. Now, I have to sweep the waste garbage in the morning shift. Since my joining, the contractor never provided us safety equipments and implements. Under the circumstance, I have to manage cleaning implements from my own pocket without being reimbursed. People generally assume the Safai work is more contaminated, despised is thinking us to be worse than dogs. I found this job in Pune as just hard as in my native village, but it is a hope of getting a permanent job in the PMC which keeps me going. What can one do when one has to fill the stomachs of so many people? In my whole working life; none the contract women worker has benefitted paid leaves, maternity leaves, free medical check-up, medicines and medical consultation. Sometimes, I lost my earning due to a constant absenteeism during hard days of life, this would make me late for work, and I get in trouble by the contractor. In many cases, the women workers are exploited by permanent municipal workers and ward supervisors.”


Highlighting miseries of the contract sanitary workers in the process of informalization of labour, the study demonstrated the increasing informalization of sanitation and scavenging work in Pune reproduced perceptible form of precarious worksites in sanitation and conservancy work in Pune and thereby a rise of the ingrained stigma and occupational hazard and risk.



In the domain of labour studies, the job security and service of the formal and informal Safai and sanitary contract workers in India have subdued by the neo-liberal state’s retrenchment labour policies as well as initiatives taken by local political parties. The discourse of the dirty work has ubiquitous use in the process of increasing informalization of labour in the phase of globalised labour system. The process of informalization of labour in India has overwhelmingly deprived the livelihood of the informal Safai and sanitary workers and pushed them in fringe of society by reproducing social and occupational stigma being associated with dirty work. However, the government claims the enforcement for the use of sophisticated technologies in the precarious workplaces. The PMC could partially implement the government’s health safety and security mandate without giving the training to its workers. 


The nature of work which was carried out on the worksites could recognize as socially inferior and marginal by society. Hence, the occupational stigma is highly prevalent in other low-skilled menial and dirty occupations. The living and working condition of the vulnerable workers may be relegated from the nature of their dirtiness. The traditional customary right act could unable to abolish the traditional scavenging practices and ridden occupational stigma for Scheduled Castes and Dalits. The study, therefore, argued that the neo-liberal state has rendered labour intensive technologies for Safai and sanitation work without repealing the hereditary rights for traditional manual scavengers and their rehabilitation from the rigid social and occupational stigma. As a result, the scheduled caste Safai workers in Pune are shifted from formal Safai employment to informal contract employment with a long-term unemployment and social exclusion.


The government could not resolve rampant problems of Safai workers because of assuming the economic overburden and maximization of labour expenditure for sanitation services. Ironically, the living condition of the undocumented informal scavenging workers remains intact even after launching of the national urban civic schemes such as smart city, digital India, swach bharat mission for Pune City.



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Research J. Humanities and Social Sciences. 8(4): October -December, 2017, 424-432.

DOI: 10.5958/2321-5828.2017.00062.6  

Received on 21.08.2017

Modified on 22.09.2017

Accepted on 10.10.2017

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