Every morning, 10-year old Rehman starts from his home in Ambedkar Nagar and goes to various colonies in south Delhi with one mission — to collect as much garbage as possible.
Rehman is a seasoned rag picker, having been in the ‘profession’ for over two years. A large part of the city depends on him and thousands of others like him for its garbage disposal. And yet, children like Rehman were the ones who found themselves marginalised and completely ignored during Thursday’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
For most children — almost all rag pickers in the city are minors between the ages of 7 and 14 - the sight of ministers and high-ranking officers sweeping streets was puzzling and funny.
“These are the same people from whose houses we pick up garbage every day. This is part of our life. We don’t really understand why they are making it such a big deal,” said Sanjay, who lives in Mehrauli with his parents.
For Rehman and his friends, the aim is to collect as much garbage as possible each day. They usually leave their homes around 6 in the morning and are done by noon.
The real work though begins after that.
“After all the garbage is collected, we get down to sorting it. We look for anything that can be sold to the kabadiwalla. Plastic and metal are the most common items that we can sell so we keep an eye out for that,” said Sanjay.
Neither the government nor any of its functionaries tried to involve these children in the Clean India campaign that is aimed at cleaning the city and the country. According to rough estimates, there are close to 300,000 rag pickers in the city.
They sift through trash and are exposed to cuts, burns and diseases because of the nature of their work.
Rag pickers have a role in major stages of garbage management — right from collecting waste to segregating it for recycling.
According to NGOs the city will come to a halt without them. They are the one who perform the basic task of taking garbage for people’s houses to dumps in most parts of the city.
“There is no acknowledgement for the work that these people do. The government is in complete denial of their presence even as they reap the benefits of their hard work,” said Sanjay Gupta, member of Chetna and NGO.
Names have been changed to protect the identities of children