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The Digital Tracking Of India's Sanitation Workers Is An Extra Dirty Deal

Lower-caste cleaners must wear GPS-enabled smartwatches, raising questions about their privacy and data protection.

Woman sweeping her house in India.​

Woman sweeping her house in Vrindavan, UP, India.

Qadri Inzamam and Haziq Qadri

Munesh sits by the roadside near a crowded market in Chandigarh, a city in India’s north, on a January day. She is flanked by several other women, all of them sweepers hired by the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation. She shows the smartwatch she is wearing and says, “See, I didn't even touch it, but the camera has turned on."

Munesh, who estimates she is in her 40s and, like many Indians, goes by just one name, is one of around 4,000 such sanitation workers. The corporation makes it mandatory for them to wear smartwatches — called Human Efficiency Tracking Systems — fitted with GPS trackers. Each one has a microphone, a SIM embedded for calling workers, and a camera, so that the workers can send photos to their supervisors as proof of attendance.

In Chandigarh, this project is run by Imtac India, an IT services company, at a cost of an estimated $278,000 per year. Meanwhile, sanitation workers say that the government has not invested in personal protective gear throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and that they have long worked without medical care and other vital social services.

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Coronavirus

In Shanghai, A Brewing Expat Exodus As COVID Crackdown Shows "Real" China

Not only strict rules of freedom of movement as part of Zero-COVID policy but also an increase in censorship has raised many questions for the expat population in the megacity of 26 million that had long enjoyed a kind of special status in China as a place of freedom and openness. A recent survey of foreigners in the Chinese megacity found that 48% of respondents said they would leave Shanghai within the next year.

People walk in Tianzifang, located in Huangpu District, a well-known tourist attraction in Shanghai.

Lili Bai

SHANGHAI — On the seventh day of the lockdown, Félix, a French expat who has worked in Shanghai for four years, texted his boss: I want to "run,' mais je sais pas quand (but I don’t know when). A minute later, he received a reply: moi aussi (me too).

Félix had recently learned the new Mandarin word 润 (run) from social network postings of his local friends. Because its pinyin “rùn” is the same as the English word “run,” Chinese youth had begun to use it to express their wish to escape reality, either to “be freed from mundane life”, or to “run toward your future.”

For foreigners like Félix, by associating the expression “run” with the feeling of the current lockdown in Shanghai, “everything makes sense.” Félix recalled how at the end of March, the government denied rumors of an impending lockdown: “My Chinese colleagues all said, Shanghai is China’s top city, there would be no lockdown no matter what.”

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