No one, in India at least, cares for the ragpickers. They lead a visibly obscure existence in this Great Indian society of ours – physically present but societally absent. Which is why when a 50-year-old woman ragpicker from Pune addresses a gathering of 2000 experts on labour at conference held by the International Labour Organisation in Geneva, it is nothing short of a monumental achievement.
Suman More is an illiterate ragpicker but that did not in the way of her speaking about the daily struggles of ragpickers in India at the 104th session of the International Labour Conference held from June 1 to 13.
She spoke about how she could not even find a job as a cleaner or labourer because of her caste and was harassed for being a ragpicker.
“Many a time people use to complain or call us thieves and we were dragged to the police station for no reason. Many a time, the police used to humiliate us as well.”
Her husband was from the potraj community (a tribe of nomads). This became a problem for her in getting jobs and her family were forced to live on one meal a day. This is why she began picking up waste like iron rods and other scrap material which fetched her barely Rs.30-40 a day.
But she figured out how to fetch a better price from her nine-hour-long labour.
She started segregating the scrap properly. The local municipality employed the ragpickers to collect and move the garbage to waste management centres because they did the job faster and at a lesser cost.
Thanks to an NGO, ragpickers may make Rs.5,000 a month today, are accorded more respect and are even provided with identity cards to help them do their jobs with dignity.
Suman’s children are educated: one is a journalist with a double Masters degree, another is a graduate preparing for the civil services exams, a third son is a Bcom student, while her daughter is married.
Although some claim that this is an inspirational story, it is not. Caste forced Suman More to ragpicking and once she became a ragpicker, she automatically became a thief in the eyes of the society. This myopic society of India is a problem that needs to be tackled first before we think of our ostentatious development plans.