The children of Safai karamchari Manoj Kumar are a worried lot these days, as he suffers from diabetes, which makes him highly vulnerable to the deadly coronavirus infection. Every time they ask him to take leave from work for a few days, Kumar smiles and says, “The threat of death cannot deter me from doing my duty.”
The 44-year-old sanitation worker, who leaves his house in Sector 49, Noida, around 6 am, says going to work has been a different experience altogether these days. “These are the times which make you feel how important you are… that you are an important cog in the wheel. I cannot describe how I felt when people clapped and beat utensils for us on the insistence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” he says.
Kumar says no one among his colleagues has taken leave or remained absent even for a day due to the treat of coronavirus. “It’s our duty, and we are not going to step back from it. The entire country, including our prime minister, has been supporting us,” he says. Kumar, who commutes between Noida and Madanpur Khadar JJ Colony in southeast Delhi on his motorcycle, says five to six of his colleagues travel from far off areas such as Nangloi and Palwal.
“There is no public transport, so they travel on motorcycle. Initially, the policemen would stop them in between and return them. Later, they got curfew passes issued,” he says. The sanitation workers wear masks, gloves and caps and maintain a distance of more than a meter during door-to-door garbage collection.
“We request families to keep the children away, keep their garbage bin near the gates and disinfect it once we leave. People have been very cooperative so far,” Kumar says. When he returns home after work, Kumar directly enters his bathroom located near the entrance, takes a bath and washes his clothes.
“This is the standard drill these days. Earlier, I would drink water first and then clean myself up. Now, I take a bath and wash my clothes first,” he says. Ward supervisor Vivek Kumar Dubey, under whom Kumar and others work, says the company employed by municipal corporations for the sanitation work had been providing protective equipment earlier too. He says the workers have been toiling hard, working overtime to ensure maximum cleanliness in the area, which is located near two coronavirus hotspots, Mehella Mohalla and Gali Number 6, Kachhi Colony.
The appreciation we have been receiving from people and community members has kept our spirits high. Another sanitation worker, Ramesh, 50, cycles to work in Okhla Phase 2 from his Dakshinpuri residence. “It takes me around 45 minutes to cover the distance. Public transport is an issue but my cycle is doing a great job,”he says. Ramesh says he didn’t have a mask, so his son got him one.
“My son says we are the real frontline warriors and nothing makes me happier.” Asked about the workload, he says, “The work has increased as more people have been working from home. It is autumn, so there is a large amount of leaves on the roads which also needs to be taken care of.”
When he returns home, Ramesh takes the stairs to a separate room on the first floor where he has been staying, away from his family on the ground floor. “Before I touch anything, I enter the bathroom, take off my clothes, dip them into a bucket full of water and then take a bath,” he says. “Those who are keeping the country clean should also keep themselves clean, isn’t it”, he says.