March 21, 2023

Great Indian Mutiny

Complete IndianNews World

Cleaning India of its cesspools

On any given day, 53-year-old Parameshwari Gunasekaran serves customers at her butcher shop on Bharati Street in the historic temple town of Thiruvananthapuram near Trichy, Tamil Nadu.

But when the phone rings asking for Saranya’s septic tank cleaning service, she gives her husband a knife and gets ready for work.

Gunasekaran is the DSO operator [de-sludging operator], is one of the five Trichy women who offer septic tank cleaning services commercially. With 33 years of experience, it is one of the oldest in the industry.

Trichy has been at the forefront of modernizing urban sanitation services for decades, working on issues such as creating a sustainable network of community toilets to eradicate open defecation.

DSOs are important in cities like Trichy, where old sewerage networks are being renovated under the government’s Smart City programme. DSOs remove sewage and discharge it to specialized stations in the city for further treatment, an essential service, while underground sewerage is gradually being implemented.

Gunasekaran says, “In 1991, we opened a butcher shop. A guy who works for DSO trucks suggested my husband and I try it. We started testing in 2005 and bought our first truck in 2008. We bought an old cargo truck in Perundurai, retrofitted it in Madras (Chennai) with compressor and hoses. At that time Trichy did not have a sewerage system so we were very busy.

A tough profession

Gunasekaran’s chosen career is unusual: the hard physical labor involved in these thorough cleaning services often drives women out of the industry. And there are other challenges. For example, sewage management in India is known as “manual collection”, employing labor to clean, transport or dispose of human excreta. Although it was banned by law in 2013, it is common in smaller towns.

See also  India seizes US $ 725 million from Chinese company Xiaomi World | D.W.

DSO women say customers try to lure workers with tips to get into the bins when they are not around, so they try to be on site from the start. “Manual collection of faeces is an offense for which both the company and the user are punished. Keeping a close eye on offending users and workers is part of the business,” says Gunasekaran.

To ensure a safe working environment for DSOs, the Indian Institute of Human Settlements (IIHS) has prepared a first aid manual in collaboration with the Indian Red Cross and St. John Ambulance.

Sukanta Priscilla, Senior Health Officer, Trichy said, “We have signed an agreement with the Trichy Corporation and DSOs on their activities. “This includes issues like third-party insurance and GPS locators for all vehicles, ensuring waste water is discharged in the right places,” he explains.

There are other horrors in the workplace, says M. Sumathi, 40, who took over the daily management of cleaning the Kirtana septic tank from her husband a decade ago. “Most of the blockages in pits are caused by used pads and other personal hygiene items. Workers must often remove sewage and bag it for proper disposal before proceeding with the disposal process. No matter how many times you watch it, it’s still horrible. I want people to be more conscious about flushing toilets,” he says.

Almost all DSOs claim to have experienced social discrimination in their work. “There are people who refuse to give us a glass of water because we are doing sanitation work. This attitude is despicable, but we have to put up with it if we want to earn,” says Sumathi.

See also  India wins Miss Universe marked by politics and epidemic

Competition company

Currently there are around 70 TSOs in Trichy. Setting up a business requires old trucks equipped with vacuum tanks and hoses, which costs about 15 lakhs (US$18,000). Although they are cheaper than new vehicles (which cost 25 lakhs, US$31,000), refurbished vehicles also break down more often.

Cleaning service prices are fixed arbitrarily, making it a very competitive business. DSOs charge Rs 800 to Rs 1,500 per load and operating expenses include a charge of Rs 30 per visit to the pumping station.

K, a mother of three due to mounting debts. He started DSO Sri Sai Enterprises from his home in Ponmalai, Aravalli. “My brother ran a DSO in Pudukottai, so I pledged my jewelery and raised Rs 18 lakh (US$23,000) to start one here in 2013,” explains Araval, who now owns two trucks. Four workers.

As parts of Trichy grow underground sewer system, DSOs shift their customer base to rural and nearby districts. Gunasekaran, for example, works with 15 schools in Perambalur (56 km from Trichy) and local hospitals and hotels.

But there are practical problems. Divya Manimaran, 27, who runs Shree Hari Septic Tank Cleaning Company in Trichy with her husband, a former DSO employee, says, “It is difficult to get qualified mechanics to repair trucks. “Vehicle parts have to come from other cities, and many are broken, so there is always a demand for repairmen. To raise money and pay them, we go to lenders, and sometimes we spend more on repairs than we bring in,” he says.

Working conditions are difficult, especially in older buildings where septic tanks are completely covered with concrete. “Finding and opening the hatch cover in old houses can take hours because we have to break the concrete with picks and shovels,” says M. Vijaya, 38, a DSO businessman who took over from his father-in-law. Trichy Chintamani area.

Personal success

Despite the difficulties, the DSO girls have overcome self-doubt and social discrimination to achieve many personal goals. Gunasekaran, for example, has educated his four children and two daughters-in-law with his income. “I had to drop out of school because my parents could not afford it. But I am happy that my children are able to study till university,” he assures.

Sumathi’s family has also benefited from her work. While her son, an MBA, has recently joined his parents in the business, her husband has moved away and is modifying septic tank cleaning trucks.

When we started 23 years ago some members of our family had a little doubt that it was a “dirty” job and definitely not for women,” says Sumathi. “But now, inspired by our success, they too have started a DSO business,” she says proudly.