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Save Our Ragpickers!

Have you ever noticed the rag pickers who daily forage into the garbage bin near your house? They are the people responsible for cleaning most of the stuff we throw in our garbage!

Chances are you have never noticed these rag pickers, but these poorest of the poor rag pickers are the ones who not only clean our dirt but do more. Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle are 3 Rs for energy conservation and environment. And the 3rd R, Recycle, is taken care of by these ragpickers!

Save Them

In US and UK there are active recycling centers, where consumers come and dump their waste or a consumer’s waste is collected by recycling center. Electronic waste like LCDs and even tetrapacks are being recycled in other countries!

But India has no awareness like that. Here, recycling is taken care of by people, whom we more than often, relegate to lowest hierarchy of humanity: ragpickers and kabaris! Most ragpickers are young, little above the age to be called kids. Thousands of ragpickers as they sift through garbage unprotected, absorb toxins from the garbage. They are hunched for hours, which gives them several back and cervical problems at early age. They get numerous cuts and bites from rodents and the glass, needles and other things we carelessly throw in our garbage.

The other people involved in this recycling process other than ragpickers are: small middlemen, transporters, larger middlemen and reprocessors. Together they form recycling chain in India.

Ragpickers sell the waste to middleman called kabari. It is not easy for the rag pickers to be paid for their waste from kabaris, the kabaris want the waste completely sorted into different categories of plastics, paper, glass, metals. The rag pickers waste bag must be dry and clean so that kabaris accept it.

Delhi generates over 7000 MT waste daily. Studies estimate that these informal labour forces saves the three Municipalities a minimum of Rs. 6 lakhs daily. The meager payment rag pickers receive from kabaris is several times held back for various reasons, leaving these rag pickers hand-to-mouth. Bullies also snatch their hard-earned money. To save themselves from starvation, rag pickers end up into vicious cycle of debt. Often their earnings are held back by middlemen to cover previous loan. They are yet forced to starve! It is a scary profession.

It is sad that rag pickers who clean up our dirt and contribute to environment are harassed by both police and municipal workers. They need to bribe municipal workers to forage into garbage bin. Police, instead of protecting them, often beats them and forces them to sweep police stations and municipal offices.

What We Can Do

In US and UK, despite recycling centers that segregate waste, citizens are aware about segregation of waste at homes and work places. Whereas in India, if we were more aware about segregation of waste, these ragpickers would have less cuts, burns, backaches, allergies, dog-bites, respiratory disorders. We could be careful about throwing injurious stuff in our garbage bin.

These ragpickers are not beggars. They do the hard work. When will we recognize their effort and provide them at least basic amenities? Write in your comments if you have any ideas to work for the cause.

I also write at Visceral Observations.


13 thoughts on “Save Our Ragpickers!

  1. Very well said. Its sad that due to some sick mentality we consider them as beggars or even untouchables. Recently i followed a news on Children’s day which showed that how a girl got cut in her hand because of some glass in bin. As u have pointed out, we should definitely segregate the waste. Unfortunately, no attempt has been ever made to create an awareness on this issue. But we can take the initiative for this. Moreover, we need to consider them as a human being who are working hard in the sun.


  2. @Rishabh:

    I get very saddened to read news like that..a kid who shud be in school carrying garbage. This image does something to my insides. Strangely I feel very guilty as I know I am not going to sift waste in their place. But somehow I feel responsible.

    You and me segregating waste at our homes wont help, we need a very a large scale awareness.


  3. I liked it when you said they are not beggars and the money they get is hard-earned money..

    About the awareness issue, i think there has been a lot of awareness already but a lot more needs to be done because there has been no difference (at least not visible to me) to the society whatsoever..

    The larger picture is that even if we start segregating the garbage, it ends up getting mixed up again because there are no separate dumping grounds in Bombay for wet and dry garbage yet as reported in one of the news papers last week, hence this issue has been put on hold till the Municipality develops separate dumping grounds, lest the whole exercise of segregation goes in “waste”.


  4. Pepsi Co. imports 4500 tons of TOXIC WASTE TO INDIA anually which cannot be dumped in USA as it has been banned there because dumping Toxic Wastes renders the land infertile and useless.,M1

    Now, its up to us to decide whether we should still use such American brands which not only pollutes our environment but also have double standards when it comes to permissible levels of pesticides in their drinks, etc..


  5. They still contain carcinogenicm/harmful chemicals such as phosphoric acid, sodium benzoate, etc as their main content.

    There is story associated with almost every company (Coca-cola’a plant in Kerela has been indiscrimately using ground water (more than 5 LAKH litres of groundwater A DAY, 5 LAKH… JUST IMAGINE) which has resulted in depletion of ground water levels to such an extent that there are severe droughts in that area every year which was not the case before Coke set up its plant there and thousands of farmers have lost their livelihood as most of the gr. water has vanished)

    Some excerpts “When it was operational, the Coca-Cola factory consumed seven to 15 lakh litres of ground water each day. Now, Pepsico is consuming about 15 to 25 lakh litres of ground water per day in an area very close to Plachimada. In addition, the Pepsi plant has the right to take about 1.75 lakh litres of water from the Malampuzha irrigation dam on river Bharathapuzha every day,”


  6. @Awadhesh: Well said, issue is gradually getting awareness, but it is not the solution. However, it is very difficult to take on to the MCD and oher autorities who do not recognise rag pickers by being united. Do you have any solution in mind? Something that we can do at individual level?

    Thanks for all these links, I will look at them and write again. 🙂


  7. Oh.. You are from delhi..

    I donno why i presumed that you are a Bombayite.. maybe because i got this link thru’ Rishabh’s blog..

    well.. it was nice to see someone concerned about serious issues.. u know, this may not seem to be a big thing compared to other probs facin’ us these days.. but we can surely go a long way in solving fundamental problems like infrastucture, etc by concentrating on such things..

    do visit the links..


  8. @Awadhesh: Yes, I am from Delhi.

    I am unable to take this as a small problem for some reason. I want people to mobilize and do something about it.

    I saw the links, you actually googled a free book on the carcinogens. You know apart from these Coke, Pepsi digging out our ground water, more strangers things happening. Your book was apt to fuel it in me. Asbestos mining is banned as it is unsafe carcinogen. Government is thinking of revoking that ban. I will soon write more about it.


  9. Why not do away with the system of ragpickers itself? What you are saying here, is treating the symptom, not the problem. If we develop proper systems of garbage disposal, there would be no need of ragpickers.


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