Last Updated 09 Apr 2020

The Women Rag Pickers of Mumbai

Category Women
Words 976 (4 pages)
Views 333
As the term ‘rag-picker’ sounds very low so does their job. My study includes several visits to the Govandi Dumping Ground, Mumbai, interviewing the women rag-pickers working there, visiting their slums, meeting with the social workers of Street Mukti Sangathan, studying the problems faced by these women and also keeping a track of their progress. I used personal interviewing of women rag pickers, their boss (the person to whom they sold their collected rags), the social workers, who had devoted their entire time working for them and some printed facts, as my research and analytical methodology.

I interviewed 20 women rag pickers, from a diverse age group and varied religions. The following are the main outcomes of my study. Starting with the history of the plights of the women rag pickers, these women came to Mumbai due to droughts in their villages or they were married to men residing in Mumbai. What started of as additional income for the family eventually became the only source of income because 90 % of men stopped working or got into alcohol consumption or left their wives for other younger women.

Their day started from as early as 5 am in the morning and went on until it was evening. Their breakfast and lunch were light, comprising of tea and bread or roti and onion, so as to enable them to work efficiently through out the day without feeling sleepy. Infant girls, aged 10 to 15 and older women aged 50 to 65, earned less in comparison to the younger women, due to their higher efficiency levels to work for longer hours. They earned on daily basis and the money depended on the weight of the rag collected by them.

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So the day they fell ill or couldn’t collect a good amount of scrap meant a day without food. Even their bosses exploited them to the core, by paying them very nominal prices for the scraps that they collected, their bosses in turn earned much more by selling it to companies who recycled these scraps. The government never played any role in their lives. The slum where they resided was rite next to the dumping yard, making it almost impossible for me to breath due to the abundance of flies and stinky smell.

Even though majority of the city’s waste was dumped here, no precautionary measures were taken by the govt. to ensure that people residing near by were safe. A lot of rag pickers and their family members were hurt due to the sudden blast that happened when two poisonous particles came into contact with each other. The waste was just dumped as it was; they were not bifurcated on the terms of harmful and unharmful particles. Around 15 people had lost their lives over the years, due to this ignorance of the Govt.

Even the middle men who employed these rag pickers didn’t care for their safety. I was horrified to see them collect waste with bare hands and with uncovered mouth. Severely wounded hands, lack of affordable medical facility, unhygienic environment, acute back problems, where just the physical pains they suffered. The mental pressure to progress, the tension of repaying the loans that they took from their bosses on high interest at the times of diseases or marriage, the feeling of being helpless and vulnerable all the time were more killing than the physical pains they suffered.

The worse part that I discovered during my study was that, even their children remained uneducated and joined their mothers to support their families. Their lives were surrounded by such dark shadows that even a ray of better future seemed unimaginable. It was in these dark times that Stree Mukti Sangathan came to their rescue. They formed a group of women rag pickers and helped them open a bank account, convincing them to save a small amount of their earnings every month to avoid taking high interest loans at difficult times.

By organizing them into a group, the Sangathan saw to it that these women were no longer exploited and worked under much safer conditions. The social workers opened primary schools for the children of the rag pickers and also provided them with proper medical facilities at affordable rates. The rag pickers finally marched towards their independence from the vicious dominance of its exploiters.

Once the Sangathan had a decent number of rag picker women members, it then trained them and their children to paint, make hand bags, stitch fancy kurtis, crafting, wall hangings, etc. he ones with higher potential to learn and adapt were taught to produce bio – gas from waste materials and they now work at work stations where machines are operated on bio-gas. After investing 2 decades for the upliftment of these women rag pickers, Sangathan’s effort finally showed drastically positive result; in the form of some of women rag pickers now working as social workers in the Sangathan and helping the other women rag pickers to earn a better living, some have acquired professional education and now work as nurses, teachers, etc.

Although the situation hasn’t changed for all the women rag pickers in Mumbai and vulnerability and sufferings still prevails in their lives; it was quiet a relief to learn that a number of women rag pickers whom I interviewed were now proud mothers of engineer sons, owned houses and were spending a decent living. The once very vulnerable and invisible group of my society now has a solid foundation.

They conduct annual exhibitions of their hand made products all over India. It wasn’t surprising to learn that the women behind this Sangathan and social revolution of these rag pickers, Ms. Jyoti Mhapsekar was the first Indian Women who won an award at the Clinton Global Initiatives for her committed work towards women and environment. This project was chosen as the best project of that year in my college.

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