Campaign to End Ragpicking and Rehabilitate Ragpickers
2nd October Gandhi Jayanti 2007
RAGPICKING WASTES LIVES
There comes a time in human history when certain social evils need to be abolished and eradicated and progressive societies have rightly done so. In rural India, no amount of arguments in support of livelihood and employment could justify the evil of a caste having to carry the night soil. Neither has child labour been condoned in urban India. Today, both evils are banned by law. It is now time when we must phase out the social evil of ragpicking; it is time to look for alternative ways of dealing with the increasing urban garbage in our Indian cities and towns.
Supporters of ragpicking would have us believe otherwise. They churn out the same “necessary evil” argument that those supporting begging, prostituting and hawking do. They plead a case for the social utility that ragpickers do in doorstep collection, in recycling garbage, in eliminating garbage handling costs, in giving livelihood to the poorest of the poor. What such arguments really do is to refuse to look at the evil in the face and admit that there are other ways of removing oppression than having to make them scrounge and scavenge all their lives for a pittance.
Let us look at the facts of 21st century Pune. We still use traditional methods of waste handling like ragpickers, open garbage trucks and Kachra kondis. Even when we have before us a host of solid waste management (SWM) techniques tried the world over to choose from. Many cities in the world take care of their garbage without manual handling; they don’t have ragpickers even though the poor live among them. They have instituted processes and penalties on ordinary citizens. These include ensuring that anyone who produces waste will, segregate his wet and dry garbage, compost his wet waste individually or collectively, sell or recycle the dry waste, and finally his non-recyclable dry waste is handed over in bio-degradable bags to the public clearance system. Why can’t we learn from these cities?
Today garbage is big business and there have emerged many stakeholders. Among them are politicians who have politicized garbage collection and disposal. They are now floating their own ragpicker and scrap dealers unions in order to corner some of the spoils. The municipality often abdicates its responsibility and is only too willing to collect conservancy taxes on one end without any efficient SWM on the other. Then there are the tax paying citizens who are willing to offload their garbage to anyone who will take it far away from their homes. In return for their apathy and non-participation, they are faced with low public hygiene, overflowing garbage bins, epidemics, increasing taxes, and in case of Urali Devachi near Pune, water and air pollution. They have not understood the relationship between their personal hygiene and public hygiene.
That leaves us with the last stakeholder which is a class (or caste) or ragpickers, mostly women, scavenging on the city waste to make a livelihood. Ragpicking may be listed among the most dangerous, back-breaking and degrading jobs that any Indian citizen would have to do. Competing with crows, pigs, dogs and cows for anything valuable in the dustbins or in a household’s garbage bag is a dehumanizing activity. Add to it the abuses of being called a thief, having to work under any weather conditions, malnourishment, exploitation by middlemen, and most of all having no security against occupational hazards. Yet our corporation wants to formalize it, institutionalize it, procure for it a human face, and then pass it on to yet another generation of the urban poor. When will it stop, when will we move on, when will we allow the poor to move on and offer them a better life, a label better than ‘ragpickers’, a better future for their families and children? Let the government rehabilitate them into humane and creative sectors of the economy. If they still wish to continue in the garbage business, let the local government assist them to transcend their present ‘ragpicker’ status and make them small entrepreneurs of scrap and waste thus displacing the middlemen that cheat them and profit from their hard work.
When will we citizens of an A-grade city, find A-grade techniques and systems to deal with waste management? As honest tax paying citizens we have the first choice, to choose the most efficient, sociologically and ecologically sound methods of garbage disposal depending on the localized needs of different neighbourhoods we live in. When it comes to public cleanliness, health and hygiene, there should be no compromise. If modernisation and mechanization will replace dehumanizing work then we should not shy from doing so. Participation of citizens in the corporation’s budget allocations, service provisioning, and the monitoring of the system to make it accountable is a window of opportunity for a ensuring a clean city. We should refuse to accept ideas from foreign consultants and foreign funding agencies in perpetuating antiquated garbage disposal systems that they would not in their own countries permit.
Progressive citizens organisations like NSCC Pune, have given a call for someday making the city “zero garbarge”. This will happen only when every citizen takes responsibility for his own garbage, reduces his present lifestyle of packaged goods and wasteful consumption that generate unnecessary garbage and all the problems that result thereby. Lets reduce, reuse and recycle, and lets say goodbye to ragpicking for the good of all life in the city!
Mahatma Gandhi Amar rahein!
Friends of the Gandhi Museum Pune http://www.gandhisalt.org