Santosh Mohite has been a ragpicker for two years.The 17-year-old who left school at the age of seven lives under a sheet on the pavement next to an open garbage dump in Mahim.
He earns Rs 100 per day wandering around illegal dumps and swamps, searching for plastic, copper, metal and bottles which he sells to recyclers.
His life and that of two other teenage ragpickers of Dharavi have been featured in a documentary Waste, which has been selected for screening at the International Documentary Film Festival in Munich.
The 37-minute film was made by Kandivli resident Parasher Baruah (32), a graduate of Pune’s Film and Television Institute of India.
He shot it over three months on a budget of Rs 50,000 after winning a fellowship from www.infochangeindia.org, an organisation that promotes social causes.
“You find ragpickers in every square yard of the city. They are often migrants, mostly pavement dwellers, with a few bundles of clothes and utensils,” Baruah said. “And yet they unknowingly contribute to the process of recycling. They don’t like the work but at the same time it pays to feed them.”
The BMC had just started developing green waste policies, but the unorganised sector had been doing it for years, he said. “At the very least they (ragpicker) would like to be given gloves and boots.”
Sitting in his makeshift tent, Mohite said, “The work is okay but when I grow up I would like to work in a company.” He said he did not think the film would make a difference to his life.
In the dump behind their home, sitting on a pile of old film reels, radio sets, wrappers and plastic, Alihaasan Khan (55) was picking out quality plastic. “I like my job,” he said.
He claimed he earned more than Rs 300 per day. Private trucks lined up outside bring trash from scrap dealers for people like him to sift through.