They are the unsung heroes of our City, silently picking up after the urban mass. While we live and litter, it is their job to separate the City’s waste and initiate the recycling process. But even after rag-pickers were told by the local government that they could not be provided with safety gear, the intrepid group have carried on… voluntarily. Here’s a peek into their lives
Despite the unhygienic conditions at Jawahar Nagar dump yard, rag pickers choose to continue for just one reason — it is a sack of gold for them
In between the filth, flies, burning plastic, toxic water, and millions of tonnes of garbage are saddened yet content faces. They pick plastic, glass and scrap metal for a living and that too amidst conditions that could potentially prove fatal. Despite being aware of the health hazards, these rag pickers choose to continue as they are. The reason, they say is that this is a way to make easy money. Each rag picker earns ` 200 a day and they have all the basic amenities, including dish TV connections.
The Jawahar Nagar dump yard gets 4,800 metric tonnes of unsegregated waste. But what might seem like a load of stench to some, is a sack of gold for these rag pickers. Close to 1,200 metric tonnes is recyclable, which is what earns brings these 300 odd families their daily bread and butter.
“We have gotten used to the conditions. We don’t get sick and neither does the garbage bother us,” said 20-year-old Wasim Khan, who hails from Nasik. Many like him have migrated from across the country to make a quick buck in this massive pile of garbage.
But all is not as rosy as it seems. In November this year, three women rag pickers went missing and were never found. In a separate incident last monsoon, three rag pickers fell into the dump while collecting waste and passed away. Yet, these incidents have not deterred these rag pickers from the path that they so willingly follow. “My brother was one of the people who passed away last year. But I chose to continue in this profession as I like what I am doing. I don’t face any problems,” says Mohammed S, brother of the deceased Khaja Mohammed. Incidentally, Khaja had gotten married merely two months before the unfortunate accident.
When the government intervened, the rag pickers submitted a signed letter to the collector of the area saying that they will continue the work at their own risk. The shubrakhs (rag pickers) live in miserable conditions and with no aid from the government too. “We have to do everything ourselves, from cleaning to sanitisation, and the government doesn’t do anything for us. It is a sorry reality we have to live with,” said Ramanna R, a shopkeeper.
“These rag pickers are here by their own choice. The GHMC doesn’t employ them to segregate waste. We asked them to vacate the premises, but they want to continue,” said Ranga Rao, assistant engineer of the Jawahar Nagar dump yard who refused to take any responsibility, even on humanitarian grounds.
However, even the workers outsourced by the GHMC are not given any sanitation facilities and they too are exposed to the poisonous gasses that the garbage emits, thousands of flies and of course the risk of death. Some of the employees are minors, going against the ‘strict’ child labour rules. Nagender Prajapati, a 14-year-old from Jharkand, drives a tractor and works under Krishna seth, who has been given the contract for the tractors in the dump yard.
“We need to understand that the shubrakhs are using our garbage. They make money out of something we use so freely. They need to be rehabilitated. We should make them collect waste from door to door rather than risk their lives here. Everyone needs to realise that there are people living this side of town as well,” opines Major Shiva Kiran, president of Sukuki Exnora, an NGO working for the rehabilitation of shubrakhs.
As they say, one person’s trash is another’s treasure. The recyclable goods are collected and sold at for ` 200 per sack and more. But while they do that, the shubrakhs say, “This is how our life is and we have come to accept this.”