THE RAG pickers are as much a part of our society as we are. Just that they do not have the most respected or a dignified nine to five job. It’s a rag picker’s pride that he is not a beggar or a thief. You will find them almost every where scavenging the garbage cans and the garbage dumping grounds. No, it’s not food that they are after, though if they find a half eaten apple or two, it would well be a bonus for them. And it is not just rags that they are after. But they are on a constant look out for plastic, clothes, metal pieces, boxes and a host of other things that you and I throw away nonchalantly every day.
Most of these rag pickers are young children. As they have no source of income of their own and are often orphans or street dwellers, rag picking seems to be their favourite pastime and their main source of income as well. They scrounge around every day as soon as the waste gets deposited early in the morning at the main garbage centres. But it is not as simple as just finding the stuff and selling it to the ‘kabaadi walla’ shops. The garbage picking industry has a hierarchal format with there being several middlemen who make the most of these innocent children, much like the organised retail industry.
In the capital Delhi itself, there are more than one lakh rag pickers with most of them being young children. Young children for whom education has been promised from time to time, but this promise is never kept. Forget education, these children have to work incessantly in the most harshest of environments and yet find it difficult to make ends meet. The rag picker earns at an average about Rs 10-50 a day. And it is because of several middlemen that they lose out big time.
The government has tried to do a lot for the young children. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the free mid-day meal programme and many other initiatives. But how successful have they been. The metro cities have the largest number of rag pickers in the country. They are not people belonging to any specific caste but are there because they suffer from poverty and the options that may choose from in order to survive are either theft, begging or rag picking. But the begging industry is a much more organised one, not giving enough scope for survival.
It’s often that these rag pickers go down drains and nallahs in search of the precious wastes. You may not often see them, because they aren’t really a part of your world. They are the people of a side of India that is truly incredible. But the government’s initiatives to get these people out of this life that they are a part of haven’t really created an impact. Some serious thoughts need to be put into this by the government for this concerning the futures of lakhs of children who might otherwise have had great careers ahead but because of the wrong choice of profession, it was nipped in the bud.
It is high time to stand up and demand action. It is time to engage the disengaged. In all the name of modernity and development, let us not ignore the harsh realities that are a part of our society and do affect us in some way or the other. We are already losing thousands of these children to terrible diseases every year. At the age where they should be playing in the open, they are made to work in the most inhumane and suffocating atmospheres. The time is now to take action for the betterment of these rag pickers, else many of them will continue to sacrifice their lives.