Rahul Upadhyaya, 26, a Brahmin and a post-graduate in Hindi, had dreamt of becoming a teacher. That didn’t happen. Today, he works as a sweeper in Musawali village in Etah district, 200 km west of Lucknow.
His salary: Rs 7,000 per month, still a large sum in rural UP. “And my job is secure,” he said.
Sanjay Singh Rajput, 25, a Lodh, a dominant backward caste, is a BSc (Hons).
Till a few months ago, he was working for a computer vendor in Gurgaon as a testing engineer.
But now, he has swapped his IT tools for a broom. He sweeps streets and cleans drains in the Hanspur village in Kanshiram Nagar district, 220 km west of Lucknow, for a living.
Upadhyaya and Rajput are not alone. Thousands of Brahmins, Thakurs, Banias, Kayasths, Lodhs, Yadavs and Muslims are taking up jobs as sweepers and sanitation workers that were traditionally done by Dalits.
Call it the meltdown effect. The fear of unemployment is forcing even educated, upper caste and dominant backward caste youth to take up these secure, but menial, jobs.
This trend began when the Mayawati government began recruiting one lakh safai karamcharis (sanitation workers) for villages a few months ago.
Most are not in the least embarrassed at their new vocation. “No work is too small. After all, we are not begging or committing a theft,” said Rajput.
The Mayawati government’s move to recruit upper caste youth to join the sweepers’ workforce can change the entire caste dynamics and social order in UP’s villages.