Imagine getting up early in the morning each day to go to work; work that involves cleaning the garbage from gutters, sewers, drains, and streets of the city. The downsides of the job: low income, health hazards, short life expectancy and lack of dignity. Add to that widespread substance addiction. Yet, there are people who do this job relentlessly, each day. A broad estimate would put the number of rag pickers in India anywhere between 15 to 40 lakhs. Mumbai itself is estimated to have more than 3 lakh rag pickers.
Concerns about rag pickers in India
As per the data from a sample study by MCGM, 40% of these rag pickers have an average per capita income of less than INR 3,500 and approximate 70% are illiterate. Their health is a major concern. 94% of the rag pickers in this survey were addicted to alcohol, tobacco or drugs and 43% of these were minors. The study found out that 63% of the surveyed population are exposed to diseases like TB, dengue, malaria, etc.
Teen activist Sanjana Runwal
A 14-year-old city girl, Sanjana Runwal, has started an initiative ‘Revolution for Rag Pickers’, directed at improving the lives of rag pickers in India. In association with BMC ‘H West’ Ward in Bandra, Mumbai, Sanjana and her brother’s Clean Up Foundation donated raincoats and gumboots to over 200 rag pickers that will ensure their safety from hazardous materials during monsoon. The distribution was done at an event held in Mumbai in association with the NGO Aasra Welfare Association.
Clean Up will ensure a good meal for the rag pickers once every month. These meals will be prepared by members of Mahila Udyog Gruh, an initiative where women come together to cook and supply meals. The monthly meal plan will also help these women to generate income for their families. Sanjana intends to widen the area of operations for her activities and wants to carry out many more such activities.
Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s quote – ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world,’ she says, “I want to bring about a positive change in the lives of the rag pickers in India. They too are human beings like us and we should stop turning a blind eye towards them. If they stop doing what they do, the cities will become unliveable. Cringing and covering our noses when we see them will not help anyone.” Wise words indeed coming from a 14-year-old.