Door-to-door garbage collectors brave coronavirus outbreak to keep Chandigarh clean
The door-to-door garbage collectors are neither a part of the Chandigarh municipal corporation’s sanitation wing, nor are they employees of the private company that has been given charge of cleanness work in the southern sectorsUpdated: Apr 01, 2020 01:09 IST
By the time most of the residents wake up, their trash bins have been cleaned out. Hardly anybody has really seen the faces of the unsung heroes who braving calamity are ensuring our living spaces remain clean.
Even when the city is on a 21-day lockdown and residents are confined to the walls of their houses because of the fear of coronavirus spread, the 2,500-strong brigade of door-to-door garbage collectors is doing their job relentlessly, without giving it a day’s skip.
“We, too, are scared of the virus, but we have no other option. We work so that our family can have a day’s meal,” says 47-year-old Suresh Kumar, who collects garbage from over 140 houses in Sector 41 and over 50 houses in Sector 40.
The only change that the ‘virus’ has brought in Suresh’s working schedule is that now, he does not take his wife and two daughters, school drop-outs, along. The entire responsibility of collecting the garbage has fallen on him and his 16-year-old son, also a school drop-out. “This is the only thing I can do for my family at this time of crisis. At least the ladies of the house will be confined inside and it reduces the chances of their getting infected,” says Suresh.
Jagwanti, a garbage collector who works along with her husband in a society in Sector 48, says, “After we are done with work, the very first thing we do is take bath, before we meet the family.”
AN ‘UNRECOGNISED’ PROFESSION
The door-to-door garbage collectors are neither a part of the Chandigarh municipal corporation’s sanitation wing, nor are they employees of the private company that has been given charge of cleanness work in the southern sectors.
Most door-to-door garbage collectors are paid ₹50 to ₹100 per month per house for collecting daily trash.
They don’t have any life insurance cover or any health insurance benefits. They don’t even enjoy the privilege of a weekly off. If one of them falls sick, their family members must pitch and take their place. They cannot let the chain break—from houses to a sector’s garbage collection centre to the processing unit at Dadumajra.
“It is the time to show the society that we, too, care for them. If we don’t pick the garbage during the curfew period, the piled up garbage will start spreading infections,” says Shamsher Lotia, who is the head of the door-to-door garbage collectors’ society and himself collects garbage from Sector 27.
But how is the administration making sure they stay safe?
The only thing the collectors have been provided by the administration is a pair of plastic gloves each, which don’t last for more than a couple of days. “We have urged the UT administration and central government to provide insurance cover to door-to-door garbage collectors who fall under the rag picker category, and at least provide bare minimum facilities that are extended to municipal corporation’s sanitation workers to carry out work at the time of coronavirus,” says Lotia.
“Except for a handful, all garbage collectors are Dalits. Though we largely don’t face any discrimination in our work, people do have a tendency to maintain distance. Some people even tell us not to touch their gates. In case we ask for water, they prefer not to use steel or glass tumblers, but give us a bottle and ask us to take it along,” he adds.
CLEANLINESS, A DISTANT DREAM FOR THEIR LOCALITY
The garbage collectors ensure cleanliness in all sectors and societies in the city, but when it comes to their colony in Sector 56, cleanliness is a distant reality.
It was in 2008 that the collectors were allotted prefabricated tin shed houses under the central government’s Rag Pickers Awas Yojana Scheme in Sector 56, Chandigarh.
For the last four months, their sewerage line is choked and the wastewater is overflowing into the residential spaces.
“It is the duty of the MC to take care of the common toilets and sewerage lines and of the outer roads. But the officials have a callous approach towards us. They think since we are garbage collectors, we ourselves will take care of the entire sanitation work of the area,” says Rajdulari, 40, who accompanies her husband for collecting garbage from over 150 houses in Sector 39.
KIDS MEAN EXTRA INCOME
Most of the children of garbage collectors are school drop-outs and are seen as extra earning hands. “In our profession, you will see the entire family, including wife and kids, helping the man of the house to cover more houses and subsequently add more to the household income. We send our children to schools, but the rate of the drop-out is more in our community,” says garbage collector Geeta, 40, whose all four daughters attend school hoping to one day break out of the ‘family profession’.
“We are contributing towards keeping Chandigarh clean even at the time of coronavirus spread, and hoping the administration realises that the rag pickers’ colony, too, should be an area of concern. We are residents of Chandigarh as well,” says a 50-year-old garbage collector, Saroj.