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TIRUCHY: On Wednesday morning, Parameshwari gets a call for emptying of a septic tank. She immediately calls her driver and load men and goes along with them to the apartment where the desludging needs to be done. She fits the hose and gets her hands dirty (literally) and starts the work.
50-year-old Parameshwari is one among five women Desludging Operators (DSO) in Tiruchy, according to IIHS (Indian Institute for Human Settlements). She has been doing this for the past 30 years, making her one of the oldest DSOs in Tiruchy. While people get into this profession because their family was into it, Parmeshwari’s case is different. She got into this, just to earn money she says.
“We have a butcher’s shop, which my husband is managing. One of the boys in our street used to clean tanks, several years ago. He said that you can make good money. We weren’t making too much by just selling meat. Therefore, I started going for cleaning tanks. At that time, we didn’t have these septic tank cleaning vehicles also, it was very basic,” says Parameshwari.
She bought a septic tank cleaning truck in 2008 by borrowing money. She says that she started going herself for cleaning as the men she employed would ask her money for alcohol.
“These men would say that we can do this work only after having a drink. Just to prove them wrong, I started going, and I’ve been going ever since,”
However, several people still ask them to get into the tank and clean, which Parameshwari flatly refuses.
“Even today, people want us to get into the tank sometimes to clean some blockages. I make it very clear that neither my boys nor me, will get into the tank. We will only empty it for you. I have seen two boys who got in a tank and died,” adds Parameshwari.
While business is good in rural areas, due to underground drainage, it has gone down in Corporation limits.
Another major problem she faces is the stigma surrounding the work they do. She says that even today, people don’t give them water to drink.
“People look at us weirdly, because we clean tanks. They don’t give us water. A few times, I asked and they refused, after that, I carry my own water. Even if they give us tea, they don’t touch the glasses after that. I don’t let all this bother me, we can’t change anyone’s thinking,” says Parameshwari.
She says that she’s proud of her profession and that she was able to give her four children a good education. Her daughters have studied engineering and law, while her son has also done engineering. She proudly says that they are all well-settled and working in good positions.
“When I see my kids settled, all the judgmental looks, and small-mindedness of people vanishes. I have managed to give my kids a good future, nothing else matters,” says Parameshwari
IIHS, which closely works with these operators, says that of 72 desludging vehicles, only five are operated by women.
“Women do find it challenging as the hose pipes are very heavy and can’t be lifted easily. However, one of the advantages that these women have is their managerial skills. Also, they are always called back to every apartment or house where they go to work, as women are comfortable with them,” says Sugantha Priscilla, Senior Specialist- Social Development, IIHS Tiruchy.