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The State of Stigmatized Employment in India

On 2 October 2014, the Government of India launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission) ostensibly to fulfill Gandhi’s dream of a clean and hygienic India. To achieve this objective, the central government planned to eliminate open defecation through the construction of new latrines, and connecting toilets to the sewers. (Mhaskar, 2019 )


It is vital that the state and the media pay more attention to the working and living conditions of the workforce involved in sanitation work. These civil society organizations drew attention to the inhuman practice of manual handling of human waste and death of sanitation workers who clean sewers. These occupations, overwhelmingly carried out by the Dalits, have abysmal working conditions and expose workers to vulnerable situations and life-threatening diseases due to the handling of various chemicals and gaseous substances. The humiliating nature of sanitation and manual scavenging work has meant that these jobs not only have a low social status but also has a stigma attached to them. There are other stigmatized occupations that have degrading conditions

of work. These occupations include butchering, rag picking, scrap metal collection, and leather. Dalits across religions and backward castes among Muslims are predominantly employed in these occupations. Stigmatized occupations are precarious in nature as they belong to the informal sector, which is where more than 92 % of the Indian workforce is employed. (Mhaskar, 2019 )


In addition to the precariousness, however, stigmatized employment is characterized by apathy from the state, mainstream political parties and the society alike. Therefore, a comprehensive policy framework is required that intervenes to either eliminate the stigmatized occupations or transform the nature of work and improve the working and living conditions of those engaged in it. (Mhaskar, 2019 )

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