11 May, 2021

The Smell Of Dead Bodies

R. Thangarasu, 42, sanitary worker: Hero for his unflinching dignity of labour, doing a job nobody wanted to do

G. Sivaperumal
The Smell Of Dead Bodies
Within 24 hours of the tsunami, the most urgent and necessary task was the disposal of debris and the dead—humans, animals and fish. And this had to be done before the NGOs could step in, before the government machinery moved in, before the task of relief and rehab could begin officially. In India, such tasks have been largely reserved for Dalits. It happened during the Orissa supercyclone and it happened during the tsunami. A total of 1,264 sanitary workers, 43 sanitary superintendents and 19 sanitary inspectors were mobilised from the adjacent 26 municipalities and rushed to Nagapattinam, which accounted for the highest toll in India—6,085 lives.

R. Thangarasu, a tsunami victim himself, was one of the sanitary workers who reported for duty at the Nagapattinam municipality within 24 hours. Kattunayakar Street, the segregated colony where he lives, is home to more than 60 people who work for the municipality in temporary and permanent capacities. After the tsunami waters ravaged the Kattunayakar Street as well, most residents fled to...

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