In his report on plague in Bombay in 1896-1897 the municipal commissioner of Bombay, P.C.H. Snow, commenting on the signifi cance of Halalkhors and Bigarries (castes responsible for the sweeping and scavenging of the city) to the sanitary system, wrote:

These men . . . form the working basis of the sanitary system, and the slightest hitch in their organization, which is a most elaborate one, or depletion in their numbers, would immediately involve a serious danger. Scattered as they are through every portion of the City in larger numbers, any unrest or tendency to strike among them immediately eff ects other numerous low caste natives, and any development of panic or alarm straightaway spreads to their immediate surroundings. Among the fi rst to have followed their example would have been the large staff of labourers . . . on whom we are largely dependent for carrying out our struggle with plague . . . It can be imagined, then . . . what would be the result if the whole body of Bigarries and Halalkhors struck work. In a fortnight the City would have to be abandoned, dependent as it is on the hand-removal of sewage and the cart removal of sweepings by these men . . . On these men and their good-will [hangs] the carrying out of every sanitary measure, and even in ordinary times were they all to remove from the town for a fortnight, Bombay would be converted into a dunghill of putrescent odure. I grasped the hard reality of the situation . . . and determined that whatever else happened, the Bigarries and Halalkhors must be kept together at all hazards, as if they struck work and left, half the inhabitants would speedily follow them, and no single measure could be adopted against the plague either then or thereafter, nor could even the Europeans, Parsis, and high caste natives have remained in the City.1