Saturday, November 26, 2005

Deny that the problem exists

I once had a conversation with someone who was outraged that India has entire subcastes whose job it is to clean out toilets manually. (Here's an informative, if POV, introduction). The conversation digressed from real toilets to Indian railway tracks, where pretty much the same problem exists. I listen to his tirade for a while, and then I ask "How would you solve the problem?".

He blurts out, "All castes should spend equal time cleaning out railway tracks".

Then he realizes something, calms down and says, "No, I would develop a machine that could roll along on the tracks and clean them with high-pressure water".

I didn't tell him my thoughts, all of which dealt with the question "Why is human excrement present on railway tracks in India?". I personally would go with installing sewage holding tanks in all passenger compartments so that the waste can be disposed of in stations using suction hoses or something similar. Eliminate the problem. Or at least deny that it exists and see where it leads.

But what would I know? I'm just a humble engineering type who searches for simple technical solutions to problems. I see a filthy railway track and I look for ways to clean it up. What would I know about caste?

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