Unseen- The truth about India’s manual scavengers


Author: Bhasha Singh (translated by Reenu Talwar),
Publisher: Penguin India
(Pp 320, ISBN 978-0143420385, Rs 299)

The first thing that strikes you about Unseen – The Truth about India’s Manual Scavengers is its poignancy. Taking up a hard-hitting traditional practice of cleaning dry toilets that continues to penetrate our society even today, is a challenge. And journalist turned writer Bhasha Singh delivers, effectively. She sketches the lives of manual scavengers across 11 states in India with utmost sensitivity.

In this process, one cannot help connect with the real emotions of these ‘suppressed’ classes into this profession- pride, shame, discrimination and fettered. It also brings to light the efforts of Safai Karamchaari Andolan to rehabilitate them and to make India manual-scavenging-free. Singh very carefully narrates each tale.

It’s extremely inspiring how some women manual scavengers have been striving to achieve complete liberation. For instance, Meena from Delhi, chose to drive e-rickshaws instead as manual scavenging permanently affected her daughter’s health. The wholesome treatment given to the book is one of the highlights of the book. The tone of the book is a melange of subtlety, seriousness and a growing concern for their lives.

But any narrative is incomplete without the angle of the government in the lives of these manual scavengers. The author precisely brings out the attitude of each of the state government – from denial to pushing the issue under the carpet.

Unseen – The Truth about India’s Manual Scavengers is not an easy read as it’s a mirror to reality. Read the book to discover the truth, acknowledge the plight the manual scavengers and appreciate those who managed to let go off the cruel practice.

–Janani Rajeswari S

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