My work as an anthropologist in India deals with the political economy of human waste. I am interested in the ways shifting forms of labor are ascribed with value in globalizing India, particularly in the context of sanitation work. The caste system employs at its bottom rung a group of people — variously termed scavengers, Bhangis, Dalits, or untouchables — whose work is to clear human excreta from pit latrines. Development discourse looks on this caste-based labor as backwards, as an impediment to Indian claims to modernity. Yet while hundreds of NGOs and government programs try to replace the work of the scavenger with built facilities like latrines and sewer systems, 638 million people in India continue to rely on excretory practices the World Health Organization terms “unimproved.” My interest lies in this conflict between expectations of socially-contracted labor via the caste system and the presence of built facilities (toilets, latrines) that de-socialize the same work.
Through my work with the center, I hope to continue to think about these issues from a variety of angles.
Jacqui’s website: www.jacquelinecieslak.com