From rags to small savings, some comfort for city's waste-pickers

An economist looks at them as 'someone who makes wealth out of our waste'

Hyderabad: Life isn’t an altogether bad experience for the city’s rag-pickers, the condemned lot of men and women in dirty overalls, a gunny bag tied to their shoulders and moving around the city from sunrise to sunset.

They are downcast and hardly look at anyone’s face as they move around. They know the society looks down upon them. They, though, are seen by different people from different lights. An economist looks at them as “someone who makes wealth out of our waste”; a social worker takes them as the ones who help the city clean up the litter we, the well-endowed, spread in the streets and in our backyards.

Dilip Kamley, now 60 years old, wakes up before the sunrise and starts his work. Holding a big gunny bag on his shoulder, he would move around, road to road, pick up plastic bottles, covers, paper, leather, discarded shoes and metals.

“I start my work before 5 in the morning. I will be doing the rag-picking for three hours. Once the traffic starts, it will be difficult. I make four to five trips to the shop at the Chirag Ali lane, where I sell what I collect. Then I freshen up and meet with other rag-pickers. We form into a team.”

‘At 10 am wine shops will be open. Each one of us gets his quarter bottle of cheap liquor at '110. Earlier we used to buy Gudamba from Dhulpet, which was cheaper. After drinking, we pool money and order good food. We get quality food, like mutton, chicken, fish or prawns from a good outlet. We don’t eat any trash, you see,” Kamley said and laughed aloud.

“We go and sleep till evening and then have two more rounds of rag-picking. Then it’s time to have half bottle of liquor, which gives us the spirit to keep chatting till late night.”

Kamley said, “Each rag picker makes between Rs.1,000 to Rs.1,500. It all dependents on how much time we put in a day for this work. Sometimes we get things like a mobile phone in the street. May be, someone got it lost. If they are working, we call on that number, give our address. They come and collect it. If they are broken or discarded ones, we sell it for Rs.50 or Rs.100. Sometimes we are more lucky. We get bits of gold or silver. We go and sell it in the shops. That day, we drink a little more!”

Adds Kamley, “While each of us make at least a thousand a day, we spend Rs. 300 to Rs.400 on liquor and another 300 on food. The rest we keep it with the shop keepers who buy what we collect.”

We do not keep money with ourselves. We face the threat of theft. Drug addicts either high on Marijuana or Ink-whiteners sleep by our side in the street corners. While we are deep in sleep, they slowly put their hand into our trouser pockets and take away what we carry with us. They are a violent sort, and they use blades to cut on our body if we wake up and catch hold of them. So, we are scared of them.”

Some 35 years back, young Dilip got down from a train at Nampally Station and began his hunt for a job in the city. He wanted money to care for himself and his family. Before coming to the city, he used to have heated arguments with his wife, while their two children sat around them stunned. These fights were because Kamley could not bring enough money for the home’s upkeep. Povery stared point blank at the family in the rural settings. Hence, he boarded a train for Hyderabad, the nearest big city. Many from his area had come here and taken up jobs in the past.

To start with, a hotel gave him a menial job, but the working hours were long and pay too meager. He carried on there for some time. One night, while he was lying down on a pavement for sleep, a person next to him there recommended him to take up this work. “He said I can earn more money than what I got from the hotel. I was very hesitant initially, as I knew the society looks down upon such men and women with derision.”

“Once I started, I found this was worth it. The city has given me good earnings. I began sending money to my home. I was able to get my son and daughter married at my native place. Now and then, I go and visit them. After the lockdown, I could not go. I am planning to visit my family for this Diwali festival.”

How did he survive during the coronavirus pandemic season? A smile crossed his face as he said, “During the first lockdown, we had no work and too little to fetch from the streets. But people used to give us good food. They used to give us soaps, tooth pastes. In front of a shop, if we ask anything, the shopkeeper generously gave it to us. I had never seen human beings being so nice to each other.”

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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