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Dignity is not a property of the Rich: Inspirational story of a Mumbai Rag Picker

Organisations like Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP) and Solid Waste Collection and Handling (SWaCH) are helping the rag pickers or ‘waste pickers’ lead a dignified life by helping them fight for their rights

What makes a story connect with so many people? Humans of Bombay, a very popular Facebook page, has taken the responsibility of portraying individuals along with a glimpse into their very simple yet uniquely different encounter with life. Their page says ‘We catalogue the beat of the city, one story at a time’.

On Monday the page featured a picture of a woman, who looks in her twenties and later revealed as a mother of two. She was married when she was 14 to a boy two years older than her. The story does not make big claims. It just talks about the unseen struggle of hundreds of people who are victims of social discrimination because of the work they do. They are the ‘labours’ in the country trying so hard to adopt the philosophy of ‘Dignity of Labour’.

cows eating trash. Image source: Wikipedia
cows eating trash. Image source: Wikipedia

The original post read:
I was born in a family of limited means. We were all sent to school, but in the 7th standard my family decided that I should drop out — and I didn’t fight it because I knew that money wasn’t coming in easy. My brothers continued to go to school and I took classes in sewing and embroidery, until the age of 14 when I got married to my husband who was only 16 back then. In our community, this wasn’t unheard off. Even though we were both children, the responsibility on us was immense — my father-in-law was no more and my husband’s brother passed away in a train accident, leaving behind his wife and two children who were to be looked after as well.
At the age of 15, I began to go door to door in big buildings, asking if their trash needed to be collected. I started collecting trash this way and it led to me becoming a rag picker. I was always well received by people who would call me a ‘sweet girl’ or give me sweets to eat, all because I never complained about anything. Some of these people gave me bigger jobs like cleaning their home and I took on them gladly because I knew that my family desperately needed the money.
I became a mother after a few years and I wondered how I would tell my children that this is how I earn my money. I decided I would wait until the right age — but all of my apprehensions disappeared when the time came to send them to school. I realised, that if it weren’t for the 10,000 Rupees I was earning every month… they wouldn’t have an education. I had tears in my eyes as I thanked God for everything — the foul smell of garbage, the hard days of going door to door and the different homes I cleaned.
Both my sons accept my work and there is nothing more I could ask for. I was terrified that they would be embarrassed of me, but they have been so supportive. My younger son recently wrote an essay on me for his class. It was called, ‘My Mother Keeps India Clean’— I didn’t understand a lot of it but it was enough just to know that he wrote about me… I’m a happy mother.”

The post has 32,000 likes and 3295 shares. The story clearly resonates with a large number of people.
The organisations like Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP) and Solid Waste Collection and Handling (SWaCH) are helping the rag pickers or ‘waste pickers’ lead a dignified life by helping them fight for their rights. They help them work professionally and upgrade their livelihood. These organisations are authorized by the state municipal corporations with the twin objective of solving a huge problem of waste management and making a ‘menial’ job of cleaning up trash not so menial anymore and also in a way that is way more hygienic.
The official page of KKPKP, a trade union of waste-pickers in Pune, says:
“We were treated like the trash we collect. People would shoo us away like they would dogs. They would cover their noses when they passed us. It hurt.”
The union brings together waste pickers, itinerant waste buyers, waste collectors and other informal recyclers. They recover, collect, categorise and sell scrap materials such as corrugated board, paper, plastics, metals and glass for recycling. They also provide garbage collection, composting and related waste management services.

-by Shivangi

Shivangi is an intern at NewsGram

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