Public waste Private Enterprise
‘Dirty fellows’ – men, women and children – rummaging in dustbins and garbage heaps. A common sight in most Indian cities. Cleaning up our trash and recycling things of value.
They don’t do this work because they want to, or because they are ‘eco-heroes’. They do it because they are poor and have been excluded from society. They have little choice. So they survive on others’ refuse.
Astud in his ear. A shirt that hangs on him. Tight black pants. A serious picture of self-dignity — even with his ‘solution’ in hand. Meet 12-year old Ramu, ragpicker. As you wake up, get ready and rush off to school, college or office, he has already completed his day’s first round of work. Today he travelled only 5 km as yet. On some days, it can be 10. He moves on to a whole lot of other small jobs during the day, including begging.
Washing cars, selling lottery tickets and newspapers, working as coolies and helpers in railway stations, automobile repair shops, construction sites, tea stalls and hotels. There are more than 7,00,000 Ramus in India. Late in the afternoon he goes on his second round of collection.
Followed by sorting and selling the ‘loot’. Most ragpickers are between 10 to 18 years of age. A happy and boisterous group, they spend their nights together on the streets, parks or graveyards. Ghosts do not bother them. Humans do. Some give them drugs. Some threaten them for sexual purposes. Still others arrest them for crimes not committed by them and beat them till they are barely alive.
The sociology of trash is simple: the rich make it, the poor deal with it. The rich who make it are generally considered ‘clean’; the poor who deal with it are considered ‘dirty’.
Where does your food come from?
Some people are fond of doing charity. A Jain seth gives biscuits everyday and another gives roti and subzi at CP. Chola bhatura shopwalla gives food too. Sometimes I go to Bangla Saheb Gurudwara or Hanuman Mandir, but can’t go everyday. Will be thrown out. Often buy food.
What do you do with your money?
Food, drink and Hindi movies. If one says let’s eat, we go and eat. The person who has the money pays and finishes all the money.
What do you drink?
You wouldn’t know. Solution – this is the white stuff you people use to erase pen marks. None of us used to drink and then a bhaiya came from Bombay and got us all addicted to solution. Now it is solution, bidi, cigarette and daru (alcohol). (They pointed out to a boy walking past.) “Do you see that boy? He is a kabadi as you can tell from his bag. He was like all of us, a part of us. Now he takes smack.”
Joginder 13 years old.
His story: Ran away from home at age nine. Father alcoholic. Reached Banaras. Next Lucknow. Caught by the police in Pratapgarh and taken to a child camp. Escaped. Worked in a dhaba in Mumbai for a year. Was not paid. Came to Delhi as a kabadi. Fifteen days back left the job of a ragpicker to make garlands. Gets 30 rupees everyday and 40 – 50 rupees on Tuesdays and Sundays.
Earned 50 to 60 rupees as a kabadi but found the job dirty and not dignified. “I never bathed because I had to handle kabad. People looked down at me because I was dirty. Police beating was a regular thing.” Joginder takes solution, bidi, cigarette and daru if he can afford it.
As a ragpicker he sometimes got half-finished solution or alcohol bottles. On asking him if that was an incentive, besides the fact that they earned more money, for ragpickers sticking to the profession he said, “the number of times it happens is too less to make a difference”. “I would be happy if I could earn 1000 to 1200 rupees a month.”
Deepak 17 years old.
His Story: Left home at age 10. Came to Delhi. Did “finance work”. Took people who wanted loans to ‘boss’. 1000 rupees a month. Next worked for a goldsmith. 1200 rupees a month.
Occasionally worked as a waiter. 80 to 100 rupees a day. Worked in marriage bands, carrying the light in wedding procession. 100 rupees for one night of work but the back hurts later. “When people stop and keep dancing, it is very painful”. No strength for it now because he is a solution addict.
When ragpicking, finds half-finished bottles of alcohol. Once even a foreign brand and “it was amazing”. “When I have money I can have alcohol but now it is mostly solution.” “Don’t write all this or take my picture because newspapers travel and might reach my village. Then they will know what I do and my parents will be shamed.”
A Ragpicker’s Treasures
Paua – a quarter bottle of alcohol sells for 50 paisa
So what is the problem?
1. Bananas and Batteries don't mix
2. Hi-tech is Expensive
3. Rich Waste, Poor Waste
4. Polluter Must Pay
5. Rights Over Garbage
Bin maange more...
Innovative solutions to clean up Indian cities
Bangalore: An estimated 25,000 ragpickers operate, recovering 15 per cent of the total waste. Most come from neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. NGO programs, of doorstep collection of waste, employ ragpickers on regular salaries.
REDS (Ragpickers Education & Development Scheme) has a store where children can sell waste paper directly to recyclers at a fair price. They have two shelters, housing 35 boys each. The centre also runs classes on academic subjects to teach the boys how to read and write.
Source: Anjana Iyer, Bangalore
Delhi: Spurred by the NGO Chintan, the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) decided to organise the rag pickers to not only do their work more effectively but also to improve their quality of life. Efforts are on to help ragpickers access health facilities, practice saving and micro-credit schemes, and learn of their rights in case of arrests. Establishments in CP pay Rs 100 for hiring their services. Money generated goes toward the salaries of the ragpickers and the leftovers are kept in a kitty for maintainance and equipment expenses. Restaurants pay extra.
Ragpickers get organised
Mussoorie: Vipin Kumar, a senior school teacher has been running the Self Help Environment Programme (SHEP) for the past several years. Fifty ragpickers work as a team under the SHEP. Almost all of them are ‘ecological refugees’ from Bihar, belonging to the Kewat community of fishermen who could not afford to pay the revenue for fishing once all the rivers in the state were opened for fishing.
Pune: Any one living in Pune can now just call the Kagad-Kach-Patra-Kashtakari Panchayat, the association of ragpickers in Pune, who will send a registered rag picker to your doorstep every morning between 7 and 10 am. For a monthly fee of Rs 20 per home. Present estimates at the association suggest that 300 ragpickers are kept busy with 100 households each. However, considering that there are as many as 4,600 registered ragpickers in Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad, there is still a long way to go.
Chennai: Narikkuravas is a nomadic tribe of Tamil Nadu. Most of these are ragpickers, and shunned by society. Civic Exnora International, an NGO, was involved with street beautification and the sheds of the narikkuravas came under their jurisdiction. They joined in by collecting garbage from every street and began earning a monthly salary of around Rs 1,000.