Safai Karamchari – Utsav Kaushik, Delhi


What can values do in this stinky pile of shit,
Memories don’t last here a second,
This incessant smell as it hits our nostrils,
There’s ample time to think over past sins.

Born and brought up are those whom policies favour;
We stick for nothing but houseflies licking from empty plates.
Nobody appreciates the work we do; except for a few stains on our pale faces –
Discoloured, morbid and turned yellow that no soap can clean, but self-respect.

And when my brothers and sisters move out holding broomsticks,
I want every questioning glance, passing aloof, to know that it’s her or him.
We abhor a common label as those white collars whim: “what is he? A safai karamchari.”
We apologise with a nod and say: I am this and this…

“Cleanliness is next to godliness.” But who is he, does he ever looks upon us?
Though we are labelled as Harijans . How come God’s own children live such a life.
We serve nobody but our work that of manual scavenging of sewers and septic tanks.
Mind you, if anyone ever used that label again. We have our own identity, without politics.

We get to wear Khaki , perhaps the only fashion amongst us.
We speak through our bodies like rolling eyes,
Tied mouth, tied hands, tied everything to serving a blind mankind.
Yet we speak but rarely assert our rights.

English is not our grammar; our’s doesn’t have any words
Neither do we know the language of courts and committees or that of the police.
Our culture is simple, we live and die in shit without even making a noise
Our bodies missing in abysmal depths, our names in the dungeon of files,
All that is left is a register – safai karamchari on today’s duty (absent and denied).


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