Thursday, November 18, 2010


From picking rags to picking life…

What else could vividly exhibit the dichotomy of our country than the socio-economic discrimination we still have among our children! Last week, in the vicinity of my residence, a society organised a gala event for children to celebrate Children’s Day. Not only did the event allow the children to have fun, but also allowed them to showcase their talent and enjoy the evening that ended with a lavish spread of food and music! However, the very next morning, I found a group of children (read ragpickers) separating items from the pile of remnants, from the previous evenings left over! Such an irony not only echoes the distressed condition of a certain pocket of population but also questions the relevance of Children’s Day, where still millions of children celebrate their day, waiting for the day to get over, so that they can hunt upon the left overs of such parties...

Delhi alone houses over three lakh ragpickers with most of them being children. Same goes for Mumbai and other cities. What’s worse is that in spite of wastepicking being included amongst one of the hazardous occupations, banned under the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act, 1986, rag-picking is still ignored in any legislation with respect to child labour. And it is not only boys but even girls (around 70 per cent of all rag pickers are girls) can be found indulging in such activities. With the kind of societal stigma that’s attached with rag picking, these children are subjected to every kind of social abuse and that’s why their vulnerability towards picking up habits like smoking and drugs are also found to be high. Not just this, the occupational circumstance also leads to malnutrition causing multiple defi ciencies within them. Above all, we ourselves rarely practice separating diff erent types of wastes (biodegradable, toxic and non-biodegradable), most of these children become vulnerable to chronic infections and other diseases as they are exposed to used needles, syringes, used condoms, saline bottles and other forms of bacteria/ viruses. Needless to state that it is so common for ragpickers to fall ill on account of their exposure to contaminants and wounds inflicted by metal objects.

Though there is no secret with respect to the saga of ragpickers, we still do not have any municipal waste management policy and no program of recycling, thus making ragpickers indispensable and irreplaceable. In absence of ragpickers, there is no mechanism in place to sort, recycle and collect garbage! And in doing so the children become vulnerable to infections owing to unsafe practices like working in decaying garbage with barefoot and glove-less hands.

To fi ght such problems, the largest organisation of waste-pickers in Argentina organised a historical protest against the government for the nationalisation of the recycling contracts and a general policy for cartoneros (known as waste pickers). Many other countries practice Participatory Sustainable Waste Management for safe disposal of waste. It's high time not just for the society to sensitise with the cause, but the local municipalities to ensure proper and safe arrangements for collecting and disposing of garbage. But most significantly, it’s an social imperative for government to put rehab plans in action for them. As a nation, we owe to our children and particularly those who are forced to pick our left overs, on account of lack of dignified opportunity. Lets give them a chance to celebrate their own Children’s Day. As a nation we can celebrate Children’s Day in its true spirit, the day we create the bridge wherein these children can pick their life, over rags.


1 comment:

  1. Hi! Sir,

    truly a wonderful article.

    There are more than 300,000 rag pickers in Mumbai of which 120,000 are kids below the age of 14. They come from different parts of the country, because the rural economy has not been able to sustain them. If they have no other support system, then they invariably end up doing this work.

    And these people should be looked at as carbon assets. They are negating our carbon footprint.

    They are exposed to medical waste and all kinds of noxious gases. And they burn a lot of e-waste—computers and circuit boards—just to extract copper, because copper will sell for much more than plastic. This creates noxious fumes they are exposed to.

    Begging children and ragpickers here have now found a new way to be intoxicated -- by inhaling Kores-Eraz-ex, a fluid used to erase/ whiten the mistakes on documents.

    The future holds no promises for them . they are thus who are denied the joys of childhood , a favourable living enviornment & opportunities for stable adult life .

    lets pray & join hands for their better living.