Despite India’s Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act of 2013 (and with a 2020 Amendment awaiting approval), it is likely that at least one million people work as manual removers of human waste, helping the 60% or more of Indians who do not have access to flush toilets. The story “Block” puts us inside a manual scavenger’s mind as we accompany Jilakaramma on her rounds in Andhra Pradesh. M. M. Vinodini writes about this labor with true empathy. Entering the daily life of someone who carries out this very stigmatized job creates new understanding of the intense unfairness suffered by these workers. Readers are spared nothing as the story—and human waste itself—wraps around their five senses. As Jilakaramma seeks a solution in the midst of dead ends, the tale exposes casteism, governmental neglect, and economic deprivation, making us keenly aware of every worker’s dignity, no matter the task.

Author Biography

M.M. Vinodini is a writer, scholar, and has also made a name for herself in Dalit-feminist literary circles and among activists. She was born in 1969 in Guntur, coastal Andhra Pradesh (India). She is a multi-genre writer, including short stories, poetry, and literary criticism that revises the classical Telugu literary tradition.

K. Purushotham is a Professor of English and the Registrar at Kakatiya University in Warangal, India. He has translated many works and has achieved a Lifetime Achievement award by the India World Poetry Festival. Most recently he co-edited the Oxford India Anthology of Telugu Dalit Writing (2016).

Bonnie Zare is a Professor of Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies at Virginia Tech. Her research focuses on discourses of identity, feminism, and activism in contemporary India and in South Asian women’s fiction. Zare’s articles have appeared in Women’s Studies International Forum, Humanity and Society, and South Asian Review among others. With Nalini Iyer, she is the co-editor of Other Tongues: Rethinking the Language Debates in India. Founder of The Keep Girls in School Project, she collaborates with organizations to secure the future of low-income girls in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.