Waste Pickers lives should never be rubbished

WASTE-PICKERS’ lives should not be rubbished – say Tiljala SHED, who for the last 30 years have been striving to bring dignity and hope to these squatter communities living in various parts of Kolkata.

But it’s not an easy task. Urban India generates thousands of tonnes of garbage daily, with little being recycled – except by this informal labour force, shunned and ignored by all of us.
For now, cities need their rag-pickers as much as they – without alternative means of livelihood – need our trash to survive. They also need recognition for their contribution to saving the planet.
Tiljala Society for Human and Educational Development (TSHED) work around this reality.
So instead of stopping them going about collecting recyclable rubbish, they provide them with gloves, uniforms and badges – not only to guard against contact with hazardous waste but also to instil a sense of pride and self respect.
Besides, TSHED have liaised with various corporates in the city to not dispose of their solid waste, but allow the rag-pickers to take it away and supplement their income.
Of course, education is big on their agenda, with founder Mohammed Alamgir having been one of the few literates in the area of Darapara – Kolkata’s largest basti – and later a teacher at a government school.
They have made sure that almost 90 per cent of the children that live in the shanty along the Park Circus railway tracks attend local government schools.
The benefit is two-fold – the midday meal at school, and later tiffin at TSHED’s afterschool centre ensure the children of this desperately poor community don’t go hungry.
TSHED put special emphasis on educating girls because, as Alamgir says: “A literate mother will never leave her kids uneducated.”
To that end they established a sponsorship programme for destitute girls thanks to help from their benefactors, and have recently provided a library cum internet centre for them.
Salma Khatoon, who was a beneficiary for 15 years, is a testament to TSHED’s commitment to uplifting the lives of waste-picker families. She is now working in the organisation as Co-ordinator for the programme and liaises with international agencies. Salma, 33, says: “It’s very exciting!”
Kolkata is home to 80,000 rag pickers. TSHED need your support to change their lives – no contribution will go to waste.