In Bangalore, India’s supposed “Silicon Valley,” the poor not only sweep the streets—a Sisyphean task if there ever was one—but they do it bent over, a short broom made of thinly cut and bounded straw in one hand. Here a man sweeps the street at the edge of a sidewalk outside a posh Coffee Day on 80 Foot Road, in Indira Nagar. A pair of well-to-do men a few feet away carry on a conversation in complete disregard, it would seem. A similar implement and scene is common enough throughout the city, indeed, across urban India, especially in and around middle and upper middle class homes.
This is my fourth trip to Bangalore, and yet the archaic practice of sweeping while hunched over is no less prevalent this time around than when I first came here, in 2006. I suppose this man and others in his position—physically, socially—should be happy to have a job, any job, given the declining fortunes of the Indian economy, which has seen a sharp dip in GDP from near double digits in the mid-2000s to 2-3% today. Not that the lives of the poor were much improved during the “boom” years, mind you, but that’s for another post, another time.
I can’t help thinking this is just one of the many ways the poor are reminded of their place in the society. After all, so many residents of this neighborhood seem to be doing just fine, downturn or not. Same with the businesses in the area. At the very least, you’d think these folks and businesses could afford a proper, full-length broom. You’d think.