Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A ‘wasted’ childhood

At the landfill site near Hadapsar in Pune, 12-year-old Vilas Bargade is completely oblivious to the stench of the garbage that is being dumped by the Pune Municipal Corporation’s trucks nor is he afraid of the many dogs that scavenge the piles along with him.

For Vilas, this is his daily routine – a task that he is involved in for up to five hours each day to be able to collect enough to sell to those who trade in scrap items.

“Depending on what I find, I can earn up to Rs 20 per day. My mother does the same job. My father left our house four years ago and has not returned. My elder brother is an alcoholic,” says Vilas.

Vilas is just one of the 368 children who work in garbage dumps or scour the waste bins in the city to salvage whatever that fetches a price. This includes plastic bottles, cans, paper, clothes, wood, wire and items that an increasingly consumerist society tends to use and throw.

In another instance, Meena Telangi, who is only nine years old, is a migrant from Andhra Pradesh who is learning the ‘art’ of sifting through garbage to be able to make a living. Her mother is employed as housemaid and father works as a tempo driver. She is left in the care of her ailing grandmother who cannot do much to prevent Meena from ‘playing’ in the garbage dump in the locality.

Meena has picked up the profession quickly and contributes to the household income with about a hundred rupees per month. That she should be going to school is a thought that has not crossed anyone’s mind in the Telangi family.

Study on rag pickers

The fact that children continue to work as waste-pickers despite several attempts to bring about a ban is what has prompted the Pune-based Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP) to undertake a study on this issue.

Initiated by the organisation’s founders, Poornima Chikarmane and Laxmi Narayan, the draft report of the study reveals that a large number of children are between the age group of 7 to 14. This is particularly true of boys.

In the case of girls, most of them tend to withdraw from waste-picking after the onset of puberty because it is no longer a safe occupation, returning to it only after marriage and childbearing.

However, as Poornima Chikarmane points out, the number of children working as waste-pickers has come down from the earlier study carried out in 1995 which had 616 children engaged in this occupation.

The KKPKP survey has also revealed that out of the 368 young waste-pickers, only 84 were found to be attending school, working at dumps either after school hours or only during holidays. A staggering 275 children do the waste-picking job every day, 41 children do it once a week, 25 do it rarely and four during vacations.

Waste-pickers, young or old, typically spend all morning scavenging garbage bins in residential, commercial and industrial areas, at landfills and municipality garbage dumps and in nearby villages.

On an average, they walk distances of 10-12 kms a day with head loads of up to 40 kg of collected scrap. After collection, it takes a few hours to sort through the items in order to divide them into purchasable categories, which are then sold to scrap traders by weight.

The scrap-collecting or waste-picking profession is fraught with tension and competitiveness not only for territorial rights over the garbage but also between waste-pickers and itinerant buyers, as the purchase of scrap at the doorstep means less scrap in the garbage bins for the waste-pickers.

Inspired by Paulo Freire

As for the Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat, this is an organisation whose mission is to upgrade the livelihoods of informal scrap collectors and improve their conditions of work through their integration into municipal solid waste collection, recovery and processing. It is a membership-based association of informal scrap collectors (waste-pickers and itinerant waste buyers) in Pune, founded in 1993.

In February 2007 there were 6,266 members of whom over 80% were women from socially backward and marginalised castes. Elaborating on how it came into existence, Chikarmane recalls: “It was while implementing the National Adult Education Programme through the SNDT Women’s University in 1990 that we first met child waste-pickers at one education centre.”

“Inspired by the method of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, known for his pioneering work Pedagogy of the Oppressed, we accompanied them on their forays into the garbage bins and soon realised that collection of source segregated scrap would offer them better working conditions and more time for education,” added Chikarmane.

The KKPKP is currently working in partnership with the municipality to universalise door-to-door collection of source segregated municipal waste through waste-pickers in order to maximise recovery of recyclables, divert waste from the landfill and carry out decentralised processing of organic wastes, to the extent possible. It has also taken significant steps forward to meet its objectives.

In 1995 the Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporations were the first in India to endorse identity cards and it has since become standard policy in the state of Maharashtra.

By Huned Contractor


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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