A Liberal Point of View to Life

Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle are 3 Rs for energy conservation and environment. After emphasizing so much on reducing, reusing, and recycling in my last few posts at Visceral Observations, I decided to take a stock of recycling scenario in India. I am shocked!

US and UK have active recycling centers, where consumers come and dump their waste. Electronic waste like LCDs and even tetrapacks are being recycled in other countries! But India has no awareness like that.

Girl Ragpicker

In India, recycling is taken care of by people, whom we more than often, relegate to lowest hierarchy of humanity. Yes, all our recycling is done mostly by ragpickers and kabaris! Most ragpickers are young, little above the age to be called kids. Thousands of them pick through garbages in your city. As they sift through garbage unprotected, they absorb toxins from the garbage. They are hunched for hours, which gives them several back and cervical problems at early age.

Delhi alone generates over 7000 MT waste daily. There are a range of materials that are picked up by these ragpickers: plastics, paper, glass, and metals. Studies estimate that these informal labour forces saves the three Municipalities a minimum of Rs. 6 lakhs daily.

The other people involved in this recycling process are: ragpickers, small middlemen, transporters, larger middlemen and reprocessors.

Ragpickers, when their waste bag is full, sell the waste to middleman called kabari. Before a kabari will buy waste from the rag picker, the ragpickers must ensure two things to get their hard-earned money:

  • Sort the waste according to different types of plastics, paper, metals.
  • Ensure that the waste is clean and dry, or the kabari can’t accept them.

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.

Ragpicker sleeping

It is sad that ragpickers 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. Bullies also snatch their hard-earned meager sum, landing them into vicious cycle of debt. Often their earnings are held back by middlemen to cover previous loan. They are then forced to starve! It is a scary profession.

These ragpickers are not beggars. They do the hard work. When will we recognize their effort and provide them at least basic amenities?

My question is how do I contribute to help these rag pickers? What can I do for them? I can not sit for government to do something. Any ideas?


Comments on: "Hail Our Ragpickers, Save Them!" (25)

  1. […] Read the post here at It’s A Free World. […]

  2. A very heart-rending post.
    There are NGO’s working for the benefit of rag-pickers and one can definitely help them.
    Also at home one has to be careful what one puts in the dustbin. Never put broken glass, needles etc unless they are properly wrapped up.

  3. That was a very useful tip..Nita but would segregation in few homes make a difference for them. We need to be more sensitized. Yes, I read some NGOs are working, but so far it is not enough till all of us join individually.

    I do not know if my post was heart-rending, but I feel damn guilty at my heart for some strange reason. I know in my heart that I can not take their place to sift waste but I can do it in my home, which again would not make much of difference for them. Any small-time monetary help is also not solution to the problem. I feel very helpless when I think of my local ragpickers. Damn, some of those kids should be in school. 😦

  4. Poonam, an individual cannot take on the burden on an entire country. If you do your little bit it’s a lot.
    And when I meant separate the glass etc, I did not mean it from the segregation of garbage angle, although that too is important from an ecological point of view. I meant that rag pickers should not get hurt while picking garbage. It was a maid of mine who told me that, many years ago. She said ragpickers get hurt if we throw things carelessly in the garbage.

  5. Nita, I understood your recommendation first time , I was rambling about segregation on different context. It is always on my mind these days.

    As for wrapping needles, bulbs and glass, it would do the rag pickers only good if they sift through waste protected. I wish MCDs would take care of that. But then it is only a wish, that too associated with MCD, of all the things. 😦

  6. This post was very touching! Some times I feel a dog lives a better life than some people!! 😑

  7. Hi. I am doing a project on Child labour. Came across your post while my research. In the last couple of months of my research I came across number of areas where a child is involved in. Its very heartbreaking that one can’t do much about the issue. But as its said that charity begins at home, I truely believe that one can make a differnce by starting from home. My projec aims at creating an awareness about children involved in various industries.

  8. rahulpyd said:

    I appreciate for your realistic post. When educated fools don’t think of ragpickers even once how can we expect bastards to be thoughtful?

  9. The first thought that comes to my mind is “what can we do to change this” – the state of our ragpickers. They live on the streets and also eat from garbage dumps – It shocks my inner most sense of well being. Ever since I was a child I have been moved by their plight, but I have not had the courage to talk to anyone. But now in my 30s, my conscience is growing stronger to do my bit. If we can lets work towards a scavenging free world……after all everyone deserves to live with dignity.

  10. @Deepti: hey, would like to know what you have in mind to improve the plight of ragpickers? All ideas are welcome. Your research must have some suggested solutions, it would be a great help.

    @rahulpyd: Yes, we need to be thoughtful. Any action points, how?

    @Bala: I am quite willing to work for this, any suggestions how? Like you, a sight of ragpicker does something sad to my insides. It hasn’t diminished yet. 😦

  11. As an outsider (Australian) reading this, its hard to fathom how as a society you can tolerate your children living this way. If you can afford it, cant’ you personally mentor one of the children ? That is, give them the tiny amount of money they earn from rag picking so that they can go to school instead. Can that be done? – or is it more complex than that?

  12. Hey, Andrew glad that you feel as much about the issue.

    Many people do that, sponser a child’s education. It may work for that one child but does not work for the entire system.

    The thing is kids families are poor, they need an earning member. Government, to its credit, has started providing free lunches at school to have more kids joining school. It has worked to a small extent.

    As for ragpickers, it is the entire system ill-treating the kids trying to earn their livelihood: municipal governments don’t recognize their work, police exploits them. It requires mass campaigns to attract government’s attention and then have them take an action.

    To start with, there is no record of how many such ragpickers we have?

  13. I would like to know about the NGOs working in Delhi for these ragpickers?

  14. Rekha: Here are contact details of some NGOs:

    Chintan in Delhi at http://www.chintan-india.org/public_html/contact_us.htm

    Conserve in Delhi http://www.conserveindia.org/contact_us.php Google them. They have earned their name with their unique enterprise.

    Social Jurist also works for child education and against child labour at http://www.socialjurist.com/

    Stree Mukti Sangathan for woman ragpickers at Mumbai http://www.streemuktisanghatana.org/02act_pv.htm

    If you are more interested in the issue, you would like to read this: http://www.thehindu.com/mag/2008/01/27/stories/2008012750060400.htm

  15. Udaya Kumar. M said:

    Hi, really it is a good article. I am also now working on rag pickers life and their efforts towards recycle of wastes and their role in replace the resource of our country. I am a M.Sc graduate in biology. Really i know very well about rag pickers life and their attitudes. I am critically watching their life from my school days. I am really got miacle when think about their help to the society. I need your help to collect more information about them to assess their global status.

  16. @Udaya: Where do you work? What is the help you want for me. I will do my best.

    What do you think we can do to improve their lives?

  17. @poonam

    I had read the post….And here I go…

    Hail them for what? becoz we are so incompetent!!! Since, we cannot take care of our garbage problems we ruin lives of thousand of children? What do we do to Hail them … Have an award cermony to Say ” Rag Picker of the week”???

    Sure you did not make Hue and Cry about child labour … but that doesn’t mean it’s not one of the issues here….

    police beating, cycle of debt, being robbed by bullies if this is not child Abuse ? What is it?

    >>As they sift through garbage unprotected, they absorb toxins from the garbage. They are hunched for hours, which gives them several back and cervical problems at early age.

    Is it not working under hazardous environment? Is it not against child rights?

    And The GREAT GA- GA you go over recycling how much of truth it is?

    Sure a lot of paper waste are recycled but what about other stuff???

    There are several units manufacturing illegal and spurious products? Where does the packaging for these items come from???

    The spurious soft drinks and the contaminated mineral water that finds way back to the market, and the contaminated needles and other medical waste that is sold i the market comes from these so called “recycling”

    How much have we done on our part to rehabilitate these children? And if u haven’t noticed then many of these children often turn to doping!!!

    Try crushing an empty mineral water bottle in front of these Rag Pickers and just see the look in ur eyes.

    We are so shameless that we often state stupid statistics to “Hail Them”

    >>Studies estimate that these informal labour forces saves the three Municipalities a minimum of Rs. 6 lakhs daily.

    Can this figure justifiable enough to ruin lives of 6000 children. Can it justify ruining life of 6 children??

    These kids are the future of our nation? Is even 6lakhs a month is being spend on the rehab of these rag pickers.

    I ask you, It was in november that u wrote this post…

    How have u helped these rag pickers?

    How many kids did u help to rehab them 100?
    50? 30? 10 ? 1?

    What is the no of kids that u took them for a medical check up?

    And if u did that … How have u ensured that these kids don’t come back to the same job?

    Do you have any Ideas as how difficult it takes them to quit their profession?
    I am sure you must have done that !!!

    Your heart aches for them… Mine doesn’t … any more! Make sure it still aches for them 5 years from now!

    It can be very painful to see the same kids hitting the same roads doing the same job after 5 years… from now. You cannot meet their eyes for u were the one who gave them false hope!!!

  18. […] We will keep our houses speck clean, but not think twice before spitting on the road. […]

  19. […] Readers of this blog would know that this is a issue close to my heart. Recently I discovered a drug addiction amongst ragpickers. Helping one or two randomly is not […]

  20. Good night, Happy Fool’s Day!

    The newly wed wife said to her husband when he returned from work, “I have great news for you. Pretty soon, we’re going to be three in this house instead of two.”
    Her husband ran to her with a smile on his face and delight in his eyes. He was glowing of happiness and kissing his wife when she said, “I’m glad that you feel this way since tomorrow morning my mother moves in with us.”

    Happy April Fool’s Day!

  21. thatgirl. said:

    this post touched my heaart;
    when you read stuff like this its as if it twists your heart 😦
    I pray for these kids, they shouldn’t be doing this.
    They should be at school!!

  22. thatgirl. said:


  23. alok joshi said:

    wat can be done kindly suggest me how can be managed. but every one (young generation) should deeply think and work about it

  24. alok joshi said:

    they dnot medical aid doctor charge them very high evey part of their life is full of daily problem

  25. kindly donate to ngoshuddhi.com

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