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Traveling Deep: See the Life of a Waste-picker through My Eyes

INDIA | Friday, 17 July 2015 | Views [600]

Start your day at as early as four in the morning or as late as eleven at night, change to clothes that are dirty and torn, work for twelve hours straight, carry a huge plastic bag on your shoulder, keep your eyes on the ground, pick all the salable items from the streets before anyone else picks it up, sell them to a local collector, get Rs.150-Rs.200 cash per day. In the process; be abused, molested, harassed, ridiculed by shopkeepers, policemen, general public walking on the streets, municipal waste pickers and who not. Come back from work, cook food, feed the children, fight (read get beaten) with the husband and if some time still remains, sleep. This is precisely the life of a waste picker in Mumbai.

In a meeting with women who pick up garbage from the streets of Mumbai city.

In a meeting with women who pick up garbage from the streets of Mumbai city.

On 10th July, I went to Mumbai for a two days visit (after completing a two days visit to villages near Itarasi in Madhya Pradesh) to meet with a civil organization which works with waste pickers and domestic workers for almost two decades. The phenomenal work done by the organization (http://streemuktisanghatana.org/) has helped women gain some ground but they are still living very far from what we call “basic human rights”.

This beautiful scene is actually a dumping ground of city's waste.

This beautiful scene is actually a dumping ground of city’s waste.

Houses are so small that after the meeting, they sat on the footpath.

Houses are so small that after the meeting, they sat on the footpath.

Government does not want to recognize them as workers, municipality waste pickers treat them as rivals and try to monopolize the market. In fact, I learned that there is whole mafia sitting on the huge dump of garbage. Corporations buy lands from governments to process the waste of whole city and do not consider human rights and/or ecological sustainability while processing waste. Wet waste trickles down to the ground water and makes it poisonous to drink for the locals living in the nearby area. Socially, the locals living there are from low-caste, dalits and minorities such as muslims. Most of the women are anemic, this waste affects their eyes as well, children are malnourished and suffer from many abdominal diseases.

Now read this: As if this is not enough, the moneylenders give loans to people at 60% per annum (flat). So if a woman has taken a loan of Rs.20,000 (for her daughter’s marriage), she will pay Rs.32,000 after a year. This is definitely an amount the women cannot repay. To repay her loan, she takes another loan from micro-finance institutions who give her loan – irresponsibly – to meet their targets. They charge an interest rate not less than 30% which means now the woman has to repay Rs.26,000 for a Rs.20,000 loan. Husband is a drunkard and often does not come back home. On the other side, her daughter has died a suspicious death which she alleges to be a dowry case. Ultimately, she sells her house at a throw-away price to repay her loans. Her other daughter and son experience all this first-hand; the son becomes a hoodlum and the daughter becomes a sex-worker.  A new generation with a bitter taste of life is ready to take revenge with the society.

Do you realize the trap this family has fallen into? This is not only a case of one family. This is an everyday example of the life of a waste-picker. Experiencing all this gave me chills. What is so terribly wrong with the world. We are driven by monetary gains so much that we do not even think twice before making fortunes at the bottom of the pyramid. That country will perish where a middle-class person gets a car loan at 7% but a poor gets a Rs.20000 loan at 60%. That country will perish which allures the rich and believes that once the rich’s plate is overflowing with food it will naturally fall into poor’s mouth. The country needs rethinking of its moral values, reshaping its cultural values and re-imagining its way of living.

Innocent faces hiding grave pains in their smiles.

Innocent faces hiding grave pains in their smiles.

One way to contribute to change the nation is by giving your money, the other is by giving your time, and another is by givingyourself. This country needs one generation of people to give their lives to build this nation.

If you are a traveler, please travel deep to understand the lives of people living at the bottom of the pyramid. People are reading you, waiting for you to share your experience; please share with them the injustices when you are telling what is great in the country. Travel with a meaning, with a purpose; your words can bring change.

If you have any further query on what I’ve tried to convey, post your comment (it never goes for moderation). If you agree, share the word. Above all, treat everyone with the same respect as you expect from them.

Tags: backpacking, dumping ground, mumbai, nomad, rag picker, responsible, travel, traveling deep, wanderlust, waste

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