They literally live in a huge pile of garbage. In a place called Bhopura, a heavily-polluted industrial suburb of Delhi, about a thousand people live in shacks made of bamboo and scrap materials amid what appears to be a sprawling landfill. In fact, these people have brought the trash here themselves so they can spend all day sorting it into recyclible and non-recyclible materials. They will then sell the recyclible bits to junk dealers, earning an average income of about one dollar a day. They are the Bhopura wastepickers.
Wastepickers, also known as Kabari, represent almost 1% of Delhi’s total population and handle about 20% of the city’s enormous daily waste, providing an efficient mechanism for recycling in a society where the most common means of disposing of trash is dumping it on the sidewalk. Despite this invaluable service they are largely shunned by society and constantly harassed by the Delhi Police, who demand bribes from almost all wastepickers. In a caste-based society, most wastepickers fall naturally at the bottom, being either untouchables or illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. All of them are incredibly poor; otherwise they wouldn’t be doing the job they do.
Yet despite their poverty and the very unappealing nature of their work, I was astonished by the dignity of the wastepickers I met on a Sunday afternoon at Bhopura: the way the men looked me in the eye and shook my hand with a smile, while the women, dressed in saris as beautiful as those of any other Indian women, smiled and held their young children in their arms. They were clearly not the kind of people who can be kept down even by the discouraging circumstances in their lives.
Posted By Paul Colombini
Posted Jun 3rd, 2008