Archive for October 2006

Ya Jhakkas!

October 31, 2006

Am taking a bow.

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Kabadiwallas

October 30, 2006
Have you ever wondered what happens to that chocolate wrapper, orange peal or Frooti pack after you throw it in your garbage bin? What do you think your kabadiwalla does with the newspapers, bottles or old milk bags? Or what happens to all the old clothes given to the kapra-bhandi wali?
Kabadiwallas or rag pickers are the poorest of the poor, making a living by finding pickings from the city’s rubbish and living in extremely difficult conditions. Their work is competitive, territorial and hazardous to their health and many die young. Half of them are single parents with large families and their ages range from 7 to 70 years. What’s more, 90% of them are the chief breadwinners for their families and most are illiterate devoid of other skills. Nearly all of them used to be unaware of their rights and many people still see the rag pickers as part of a caste of untouchables and subject them to harassment and discrimination.
They are indeed one of the most efficient and low-key recycling systems in the world and the people who run it are these relentless neighbourhood Kabadiwallas. In India, it’s possible to sell and recycle almost any junk, from newspapers to old plastic jars. According to one estimate, India recycles 60 per cent of its plastic waste. The figure for Japan is 12 per cent, for China 10.
Redundant objects are reincarnated as new for someone less fortunate. Poverty forces an estimated one million Kabadiwallas to spend hours earning a few rupees this way. But in large part, it’s driven by a cultural conditioning. People are reluctant to throw away old things. The concept is even leveraged by marketing wunderkind. They offer discounts on new TVs and fridges if you turn in old ones.
Waste from the households in South Bombay travels via the rag picker & kabadiwalla travels to sub-dealers & dealers in Bhendi Bazar to Grant Road area. Rag pickers usually get a lower amount for the waste collected, as it is soggy & soiled. The sub-dealer buys a mixed composition of waste (dry and wet waste) further separates it & sells it to dealers who buy only one type of waste i.e. either paper, plastic, metal or glass. The dealers further sort out the waste according to grade & condition of the material.
Waste-pickers typically spend all morning scavenging garbage bins in residential, commercial and industrial areas, at landfills and municipality garbage dumps and in nearby villages. On average, they walk distances of 10-12 km 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 such as paper, glass, wire, etc, which are then sold to scrap traders by weight. The scrap-collecting 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.

As in other informal sectors, scrap collectors were dispersed, invisible and unorganised. In the initial stages of organisation, scrap collectors did not believe that they were engaged in ‘work’. Neither did the rest of society. Popular images of scrap collectors were that they were ‘thieves’, ‘uncouth’, ‘foul mouthed’ and ‘good for nothing.’
Policemen accosted scrap collectors on the street. They were the first to be apprehended in the event of theft in an area in which case they had to pay bribes to policemen to secure their release. Municipal garbage workers and citizens would not permit them to keep their sacks on the pavements. The issue of ‘ownership’ of garbage in the street bins assumed significance.
Waste-pickers are subjected to a number of health hazards because they rummage through putrefying garbage including toxic medical waste using bare hands. Tuberculosis, scabies, asthma and other respiratory infections, cuts and injuries are common as are animal bites from the pigs, dogs and rodents that they have to contend with. 30 per cent of waste-pickers have been bitten at least once.

The Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat is a membership-based organisation of scrap collectors. Membership is open to both men and women scrap collectors. Each member pays an annual membership fee of Rs.25. Photo-identity cards are issued to all members. At present the Association has approximately 10,000 registered members. Right from the inception the Association has endeavoured to adopt a broad-based democratic structure rather than to have a Board driven power structure. The membership of the Association is drawn from specific slums across the city where large numbers of scrap collectors reside. Members in each slum pocket select a representative.
Chitrabai Kshirsagar candidly confesses to her involvement in petty thefts of industrial scrap while waste picking prior to her becoming a member of the association. At the time she had disdainfully said that she had no need for the Identity Card. Sometime soon thereafter, tired of her constant brushes with the law, she had a change of heart and decided to stop thieving. She became a member. Four years ago, a policeman accosted her while she was collecting scrap and asked her to empty her sack. In her words, “I said I do not have any stolen goods. I will empty my sack if you insist but you will have to refill it if you do not find anything”. She emptied the sack and waited till the policeman apologized and refilled it. She is now the elected representative from her slum.
Suman Sadashiv Shivsagar, a union member who is attending the meeting at the scrap shop, says that earlier people used to walk down to her and abuse her for no reason at all. She says, “Since I joined the union five years ago the harassment has reduced. Now even if somebody says something to me I have the courage to talk back. Now people address me with respect, they even call me mavsh’ (aunty).” Suman has been working as a waste-picker for the last 20 years, that is, since she was 15 years old. Making a daily income of about Rs 40, she now travels with the municipality garbage truck or ghanta gaadi (truck with a bell), which plies residential areas in the city collecting garbage directly from housing societies and other establishments. This is a new initiative by the corporation intended to keep the streets clean and prevent dumping in street garbage bins.
Originally featured in haftamag