Tuesday, 22 May 2007

A tale of a scavenger in India

A tale of a scavenger in India

by Remigius de Souza

SCAVENGER’S WORK must have been one of the noblest vocations for ages in the civilized societies. We have heard Gandhiji used to spare some time to do sweeper’s work. Surely he must have added some valuable dimensions to his insight in the society while doing that. Scavengers know the secrets – the hidden life of the society that even the well-informed and well-meaning experts may not know or even imagine.

While working as an architect planner for city municipal council at Vadodara I learnt something about this vocation; it was an untaught lesson. In the office there were some boys of ‘Dhed’ – an untouchable caste, a lowest of the lowly castes. They used to prepare and serve tea and sometimes chewing tobacco and serve drinking water: a scandalous service to take from a Dhed in the caste-ridden Gujarati society. After I left the municipal job, and elderly person who was my subordinate then had courage to ask, “Sahib, what is your caste?” When I replied “I am Dhed”, he was not ready to believe. He said, “Your face doesn’t look like one.”

Now in the modern times, the scavenger’s job is done by machine. But we don’t know if the scavengers are redeemed from the curse of their caste, even if they were to be converted to other institutionalized religions. Once, four converted low-caste persons, which are called Dalits – the downtrodden, were murdered by guns in the open daylight at village Golana, Gujarat, on the Republic Day a decade and half ago by high caste Hindus, because they had refused to do any menial work work.

Once in a well-known school in Gujarat, the students had boycotted the class when they made out from his accent and language that the newly appointed teacher belonged to an untouchable caste.

We also do not know if the machine doing an efficient job of cleaning or polluting the social and physical environments. The scavengers and their work is disliked and hated but cannot be denied. But who would be blamed for the mischief of the machine?
On the occasion of my mother’s funeral I was in tears and some people consoled me. I didn’t tell them what brought me to tears. That I remembered her last wish was, not burry her among the dead of the untouchable castes, but take her body to the cemetery at our native village. We rarely remember that our final destiny takes us to the same destination, irrespective of our status – social or otherwise, whether we are consumed by the vultures, worms or flames.

Once when I was in the municipal service the boys said, ‘Sahib, we saw you yesterday at “Khanjaroo” (brothel)’. I didn’t reply that I was following a scavenger’s vocation, which was bestowed upon them by the great Indian tradition, to identify them by their caste, even though it would have been a respectful gesture. Among fishes there are some scavenger species; they also get a place in the aquariums. Well, the big fish eat the small fish is another matter.

I shall, sooner or later, write about the prostitution that I mentioned above.

Remigius de Souza


  1. reached here from the link given on the other blog..
    what to comment?? "oh, what a great post? what a sensitive person you are!!" what?
    things are to be experienced.
    i would deliberately insist/pray for all experiences and teaching followed by it..
    understood your meaning of scavenger..
    let me search mine too..
    huge sigh !!

  2. Harshada.

    Learnt lessons are the best (like swimming that I learnt) than the taught lessons.
    At least this is what I learnt … that there are no shortcuts … hard way.
    I am indeed thankful for your observations and comments.
    – Remi