On the afternoon of 22 August, in Telangana, at the bank of the river Krishna at Wadapally ghat, around 20 people—dalits and tribal people waited for their names to be called. The twelve-day long Krishna Pushkaralu festival, which occurs every 12 years, had began on 12 August. Over 13 lakh of people had taken a dip in the river (there had been 8 lakh in Wadapally alone), and the area had to be sanitized. The people gathered there—elderly men, teenagers, women and college students from the nearby Wadapalli village—were to collect the religious and human waste.
They gathered around a well-built middle-aged man while he read out names from his register. The man was a supervisor for the sanitation work at Krishna Pushkaralu. He and an executive officer (EO) were there to hire workers for the state, to clean the area. But these workers’ names were never called. They had already worked for five days, but their names had now disappeared from the supervisor’s register.
For the first few days, the payment for the workers was going through the contractors who hired them, and who were in turn paid by the government. On 13 August, the district collector announced that the money would be handed directly to the sanitation workers instead. Those who cleaned the grounds would be paid Rs 415 per day, plus a meal worth Rs 75; and those cleaning the toilets would get Rs 500, as well as the meal. The collector said that district officials would directly oversee the payment distribution. The collector appeared to be reacting to a story published in the Telugu newspaper Eenadu that very day, which reported that the workers received less than half the money that the government had sanctioned them.