I’m supposed to leave for New Delhi in 22 hours. Ordinarily, this circumstance would find me slipping 3 oz. bottles into ziploc bags, counting shirts, and making copies of my passport. But alas, I’m sitting on my couch in Arkansas wondering whether India will ever decide to let me in! My visa still hasn’t arrived. I’ve called the embassy too many times to count, and IF I’m lucky enough to get through, they ask for my passport and application numbers instead of my name. It’s enough to make anyone feel inhuman.
So I’m taking this opportunity of unexpected, extra summer couch-time to read everything I can get my hands on. Here’s a passage from one of the India books I’ve been reading that really struck me:
In Adiga’s Booker Prize-winning The White Tiger, a lot of Indian drivers are parked outside a glittering shopping mall in New Delhi, waiting for their rich masters to emerge from the air conditioning. As they wait, one poor man (distinguished by the sandals on his feet, as opposed to the real shoes of rich men) attempts to enter but is stopped by guards at the door.
Instead of backing off and going away– as nine in ten in his place would have done– the man in the sandals exploded. ‘Am I not a human being too?’
I imagine that this is how the wastepickers must feel sometimes, when the government disregards their rights and privatizes the very recycling services that the wastepickers have been performing for decades. Are they not Indian citizens too? Should not every citizen of the world’s largest democracy be able to speak freely about his or her rights?
In an article published in 2009, Neha Sinha writes about the inherent dirtiness and subsequent discrimination that comes from a career in wastepicking. Relying upon research done by Chintan, Sinha reports:
We [insert Indians, Westerners, government officials, whatever you like] think wastepickers take irreverent pride in being dirty, or do not care about being dirty. But a study done by Chintan in Delhi shows that it is the “dirtiness” of the wastepickers which prevents them from finding a place in hospitals, toilets, public watering points, and society itself. Further, the study shows that the dirt is not just a consequence of work conditions, but also wastepickers’ living conditions, with most of them simply not having access to facilities for cleanliness. And finally: nearly 100 percent of the wastepickers say they aspire to be clean.
Just because the wastepickers have grown used to their living conditions does not mean that those living conditions are acceptable. Of course they aspire to be clean! They are human beings too.
Wastepickers, for what it’s worth, I’m coming as quickly as I can. I can’t wait to meet you! Here’s hoping the Indian embassy will let me.
Posted By Karie Cross
Posted Jun 18th, 2010