Caste and Gender – the barriers in waste management in India

30th July, 2014

It is long 12 years since I started  my exploration on waste and lives around it.  I am not an academician or theoretician. Yet I dare to present some thoughts before all of you for your consideration.

The waste issue in India remains unsolved despite of innumerable efforts and loads of money pumped in.

I think two aspects related to waste are very crucial where our Governments and programmes for solid waste management failed to address

  1. Gender: The gender divide in waste management is very evident from households to governments.  The common notion is that it is the duty of women to do waste management / cleaning. Or it is womanish / girlish to do waste management. Where being womanish is not at all considered as a great thing but always looked down at.

Some examples from our daily life:

A man who washes his wife’s cloth, helps in kitchen and cleans the house normally will be called as “hen pegged” (in Hindi it is ‘dabbu’ and in Malayalam ‘pen konthan’ ) But when a women does this for her husband she is portrayed as “the model wife” as if she has performed her duty well.

Mother always yell out to her daughter to pick and wash the soiled plates of her brother not the other way round.

When it comes for waste management programme planning at Local Self Government “Let us employ  Women Self Help Groups for door to collection of waste” as if they are doing some help for those women.

It  is mostly the female colleague of ours who picks our tea cups after the tea-party we had in our work place.

I think this is a virus programme which is centuries old still running in back of our mind.

  1. Caste:  India was notorious for the caste system. I am not sure about other regions of the world. Certain people were classified as “low caste” and they were compelled to do scavenging, and was denied all human rights and dignity of life in the name of Gods. This centuries old practice though banned by law left the marks behind which still plays its part.

The logic is that Cleaning / waste management is duty of lower class. In other words, those who does cleaning or waste management is a person from lower class.

The term lower class in the modern age can be people from the community and the weakest person in terms of muscle power / money power / bargaining power and or dark colored.

Map 3 or 5  or all waste management facilities in your region and check who lives around or what sort of people are forced to be at the receiving end of such waste dumps or processing centres? Most of the places I found it is dalits, marginalized communities and or minorities living there. There is no reason for me to believe that selection of location for such facilities were just  ‘accidental’.

The racism – is still sharp.

So the general approach is that working around segregation, composting, cleaning etc are either womanish or which is related to lower class. Or it lowers your status of being a powerful male.

This is creating the mental block where people especially men do not want own up or take part in clean up, segregation, composting , recycling and so on.

I am sure that you may find similar experiences from your surroundings which we always felt as ‘common’ thing or very subtle. But it is very deep and we see only branches of that devil through people. The root is somewhere outside and that need to be cut, may be like fighting with hydra which have a thousand tentacles.

The challenge is to break this barrier which is centuries old. I believe that we are not going to solve the issue of waste unless we address this issues.

How are we going to solve this? Any ideas?

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