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Indian Waste Pickers Represent Community At The United Nations Convention

Posted on October 8, 2010 in Society

By Shraddha Sankhe:

The slums, the garbage and the stench in the city of Mumbai and other metros of India have a story to tell. When numerous women-young and old walk around the ‘dirty’ areas of the city with a large nylon bag or a basket collecting plastic, junk and biodegradable waste materials-they’re neglected and callously ignored. A few talk to them. Most cover their nose with handkerchiefs when they pass. Little known fact it is that three women from Maharashtra are representing the unknown community of Indian waste-pickers at the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference in Tianjin, China.

Baidabai Gaikwad from Pune, Maya Khodave from Nasik and Sushila Sable from Mumbai are waste pickers. They are talking to the world body about their plight and demanding certain rights which the Indian State has failed to provide.

They’re spreading the message of their environment-friendly ways of work.  Waste-pickers are the direct link between waste management and recycling.

Our work is dirty and hard, but it has real benefits for the larger society. Recycling reduces greenhouse gas emissions and saves resources. Governments should recognize our work and cooperate with our efforts to improve our working conditions and increase recycling,” said Khodave.

Greenhouse gases like Methane which are produced due to dumping of organic material in land-fills are a hazard to the environment. Waste-pickers help curb this by picking and classifying the waste into dry and wet garbage and aid their recycling. Most of the ill-effects of modern day activities like deforestation and mining can be curbed by effective segregation of waste. Since the work of waste-pickers is considered marginal to the economy -their contribution has so far been taken for granted.

Reports say, there are over fifteen million waste-pickers in the world. With no special provisions or work management, waste-pickers are susceptible to diseases and hazardous conditions of living. While they’re considered the poorest of the poor- they sell all that they collect from bins, roadsides and dumping sites to survive with whatever they earn. Children too are involved in the herculean task of waste-collection. While health hazards pose a risk, only a few studies have been undertaken to understand the problems faced by families dragged into waste-picking out of sheer poverty.

Beggars can’t be choosers. And we definitely do not want to take up waste picking or more formally called-the informal resource recoverer’s job as a career by any chance, right? Most citizens of the world (not just India) look down upon the work of waste-pickers. The urban poor is engaged in services we cannot thank them for in over a million years. If only Baidabai Gaikwad, Maya Khodave and Sushila Sable help draw attention and sympathy of the policy makers of the world to this occupation. Dignity of labour could reinstate itself in our minds. No work is bad. And waste-picking is the least dirty of the jobs. It helps us check the cleanliness. It is time we realize the efforts of the million women and children with the large nylon bag. It is time we consider giving equal privileges to all. But first, let us thank them- for being the environment checkers. And please remember that they’re not scavengers.

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