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2009/05/28

Confronting the unpleasant sight of what we are




Dalits clearing excreta by hand during the night
Men of Hindu Dalit caste removing raw sewage by hand.
Whilst archiving some old notes, I came across this BBC news item from 2006: "IT giant [HP] faces India legal action".

Reading this reminded me that the same hi-tech area in Bangalore as was mentioned in the article was also mentioned in another article about India from the BBC: "Bangalore's 'night soil' collectors". These "collectors" are from the absolute lowest Hindu cast - the Dalits (untouchables) - and have the primary job of manually moving shit out of cesspits, at night-time - presumably because at night-time there is nobody of a higher caste - and who probably made the shit in the first place - to see/smell and be offended by this activity.

The latter article not only provides a scatalogical angle, but also room for some serious thought by us.

If you read the latter article, you will see that, interestingly, they call it "night soil" - and apparently not because the shit collectors (Dalits) work on this unpleasant job only at night-time. For example, I read a separate report about Indian "ecological" public toilets, where they referred to the shit not as "shit", or "excrement", or "sewage", or even "waste", but as "night soil", so not only is it just a euphemism for shit, but it also suggests that the people that produce the shit only produce it at night-time.


That would seem highly unlikely to me, as I would expect people to have to take a shit whenever they needed to, and it would be highly unrealistic to expect them to be able to hold it in all day and only evacuate their bowels at night-time. Having said that, some Fakirs have amazing control over their body's autonomic nervous system, so I suppose anything is possible for them.

I also find it amazing that, even though "the night soil system" was apparently banned by the Bangalore state government in 1973, it is still happening over 30 years later - thus displaying a responsible reluctance to be over-hasty in implementing new laws.
But, I have to ask: What sort of society would avoid implementing proper sewage systems - when they obviously have the capability to build such systems - and thus oblige some of their their citizens to manually remove shit from cesspits?

I think that the way a society conducts itself can tell us a lot about the people in that society. For example, leaving the subject of Indian excrement removal aside for the moment, take a look at the Egyptian government's rescinding of the ban on the practice of female genital mutilation (euphemistically called "female circumcision"), just after imposing a total ban on this barbaric practice in about 1997 - refer "Female genital mutilation 'must end'".


Now I know that it's easy to be judgemental, but it seems to me that, in this so-called "enlightened age", the people who sanction - even legislate - such things in these societies really do seem to be rather unenlightened and possibly somewhere near the bottom of the cultural evolutionary scale. We are probably lucky that they are not our immediate neighbours and we can hope that they don't immigrate to become our real neighbours.

But back to India: So, for a much lower cost, should HP and other computer/IT companies continue outsourcing their work to the people in India, putting their own more expensive labour force out of work at home? Hmmm.
Though this is labour arbitrage, isn't it also kinda like immigration by proxy? It seems to me that if HP and other IT companies do this, then the Dalits certainly won't be the ones to benefit. Carry this to its logical conclusion and Western countries could become nations of consumers, with no-one engaged in useful production. Would that be a recipe for national economic survival/growth? I could be wrong, of course, but I can't see that it would. So what exactly is it a recipe for?

Having said all this, one has to ask:


  • Are these Indians in the shit?
  • Are we maybe about to help pull them out of it?
  • Or are we about to deliberately descend into the shit with them?
  • And who's got the toilet roll?
What do you think? Is this "food for thought", or just a load of eliminated waste matter?
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