Even as everyone thanks the doctors and nurses, many forget the 'faceless' people who work in the background.

Invisible Heroes Bio-medical waste handlers who risk cleaning up after you leave the hospital
Features Human Interest Thursday, October 13, 2016 - 12:02

This story is part of TNM's 'Invisible Heroes' series. The series aims to give voice to the people who perform some of the most thankless jobs in our society.

41-year old Srinivas pushes a large metallic trolley through the less frequented back alley of the Gandhi Government Hospital in Hyderabad. “This is my fourth round. I'm almost done with my shift, and I can go home after one more round,” he says, while speaking to The News Minute. 

 Srinivas is from the clan of bio-medical waste handlers who are the ones that take on the unenviable risk of cleaning up, after a patient leaves the hospital.

The garbage trolley emits a nauseating smell, but Srinivas uses neither gloves nor a mask. “Initially, even I could not bear the stench. Now, I’m used to it,” he grins. Srinivas gets up at 5am and walks to the hospital from his house situated at nearby Bhoiguda. 

He changes into his uniform and checks in for work at 7am sharp. This has been his schedule for the past two years. “There are two shifts, and I work from 7am to 2pm,” he shares. 

“It's simple. These black bags go in the bin, and the yellow bags go in the truck. It stinks because the waste is wet at the bottom. So, this how you do it…" he adds as he picks up two cardboard pieces and scoops up all the waste at the bottom, and shoves it inside the yellow bag.  

"The hospital employs more than a hundred of us," says R K Das, another worker, who has been around, ever since the hospital inaugurated its new premises in 2003.

This is just one of the government hospitals in Hyderabad -besides another two- a city that houses countless private medical clinics and hospitals. 

Both Srinivas and Das quickly dispose of the garbage and push the trolley back to the hospital blocks, where they collect the next round of garbage from various wards and repeat the process all over again. 

“It is hard sometimes. We get paid only around Rs 6,000 per month for the work. We would feel better if someone at least took the effort to appreciate us once in a while,” rues Srinivas. 

“You're actually the first person who has actually asked me what my job entails. Everyone reserves respect only for the doctors and nurses, because they represent the face of the hospital….we form the backdrop which no one notices,” Das chimes in.

Das and Srinivas also point out the appalling, unhygienic conditions they are forced to work in, and which can even turn fatal. “I have been falling sick more often than before, but what can I do? I am uneducated. I have no choice. I have to work to be able to stave off hunger in the family,” says Srinivas, who sometimes works as a construction worker after his shifts, to make ends meet. 

There are a lot of studies on improper disposal of medical waste in India. This is primarily due to sheer negligence and ignorance, with many doctors themselves unaware of the rules in place. It goes without saying that hospital authorities are more than willing to play lax in this regard. 

Though Srinivas has more or less come to terms with staying on, he is determined that his children will not follow suit. “I have two sons and I'm making sure both of them finish school. I will not let the same fate befall them,” he reiterates, with a ring of determination in his voice, as he goes about his thankless job.

(Srinivas and Das manage to share a laugh, despite their troubles)

 

This story was first uploaded in August 2015, and is being replugged.

 

Read more: 

Invisible heroes: Bearing the stench to eke out a living, men who keep public toilets clean

Invisible heroes: What it's like to examine corpses and live with death each day

Invisible heroes: Food delivery boys and their hunger for a better life

Invisible heroes: Meet the people who give the dead their last send off

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