DEHRADUN: Thirty-two-year-old, a native of Bihar’s Bhagalpur, first started segregating waste when she was a 10-year-old girl and had just migrated to Dehradun, then part of Uttar Pradesh, with her family. She claims that she has been putting up with caste-based slurs from the very beginning and little has changed over the 22 years she worked as a sanitation worker. Like Devi, many other sanitation workers in the city put up with the downside of working in the unorganised sector: caste-based discrimination and abuse, lack of benefits under government schemes like health insurance, uncertain working conditions, etc.

At a seminar titled ‘We Speak Too’ on Saturday, frontline sanitation workers shared their experiences, issues and hopes for the future. The seminar was organised by the Indian Institute for Human Settlements and local social organisations.

“Insults are as much a part of my work as the waste we collect. We put up with it because we know that the work we do is important and at the end of the day it is an honest living. But the harsh reality is that everything is judged based on caste,” Devi said. She works with 10 other women, all engaged in waste collection and segregation in Mussoorie. They are private sanitation workers who are part of various agencies and social organisations.

“We speak too” is a series of six seminars being held in cities like Bengaluru, Mumbai and Dehradun. It has been organised by Tamil Nadu Urban Sanitation Support Programme and Alliance of Indian Waste Pickers, which fall under the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (