Posted by: Tony Carson | 28 September, 2007

The plight of New Delhi’s ragpickers

More than 95 percent of New Delhi has no formal system of house-to-house garbage collection, so it falls to the city’s ragpickers, one of India’s poorest and most marginalized groups, to provide this basic service. They are not paid by the state, relying instead on donations from the communities they serve and on meager profits from the sale of discarded items.

But after centuries of submissive silence, the waste collectors are beginning to demand respect.

On Oct. 2, Gandhi’s birthday, the Delhi state government will make a small but significant concession. In response to pressure from a ragpickers’ union, it will supply about 6,000 with protective gloves, boots and aprons.

For now, though, they still pick through refuse — shards of glass smeared with the remains of yesterday’s dinner, broken shoes mixed in with rotting meat — with bare hands.

This is the first time the government has made any effort to recognize this band of essential workers, and the moment will be marked with a celebration near the city’s Gandhi memorial.

The waste collectors are underwhelmed by the move. They do not want gloves, they say. They want wages, pensions, health care, uniforms that they hope will discourage police harassment, education for their children and decent housing.

The full article is at the New York Times: Picking Up Trash by Hand, and Yearning for Dignity.

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