Members of a union in Thane, Maharashtra, talk about the impact of the pandemic on the livelihoods of waste collectors and waste-pickers. With nothing to collect, and no place open to buy from them, the money they had was not enough for basic necessities, or food for their survival.

The pandemic only increased existing discrimination. They speak of how it is impossible to ask for a raise for the work they do, because people treat the waste collectors as dispensable. The state also refuses to take responsibility for providing pension they are entitled to, even when the individual making the demand has all the documents in place showing their age.

What enabled the demand for their rights was being part of the Municipal Labour Union, which made it possible to protest and fight for minimum wage and bonus, and to make demands for the payment owed to them for the period of the pandemic. It was also through the unions that the basic needs in terms of food and foodgrains were covered in the initial stages of the pandemic.

National Alliance of People’s Movements stands in solidarity with the domestic workers and waste collectors and waste pickers, demanding that the value of their work is recognized, and that they are provided with minimum wage, wages still owed and means of subsistence in times of continued difficulties caused by the pandemic as well as by pervasive discrimination.

In a message for International Women’s Day, Laxmiben, from Gujarat, reminds us all that the Gujarat development model is nowhere close to delivering what it claims to.

The discrimination against the Dalit community is rampant, in education and employment, but also in the daily treatment meted out to them by the dominant castes. She reminds us of the impunity with which the violence against Dalit youth was filmed on video and circulated until it became viral, with no immediate action taken even though it was an atrocity case.

The media only praises the government, doesn’t show the problems with women’s nutrition, with education, employment. Nothing is said about the problems people had in paying fees during the pandemic, or in accessing medical treatment.

Whenever people raise their voices, they are jailed, their voices prevented from reaching out of Gujarat. Her appeal is to stop listening to the falsehood Modi sells, and listen to the voices of the actual people instead.

During the a meeting organized by DASAM with people earning their livelihoods through waste-picking, the conversation moved towards the need to have more long-term, if not permanent solutions to the issues they face.

On way of making such a demand is by asking for a law addressing all workers of the informal sector.

Piyush Mahapatra talks, during the DASAM roundtable with waste pickers in Delhi, about the implications and enactment of laws addressing waste collectors.

He makes reference to the Solid Waste Management Rules (2016) which brought in some positive changes. An important aspect is that the rules now recognize the waste picking and collecting and work and enable the people to make demands based on them.

What is important is for the people involved in the work to be aware of the rules, starting from the need to have waste segregation, to health provisions, to the situations in which they can refuse to collect waste.

Knowing the system and having the knowledge can enable community leaders to demand for rights for the whole community.

We stand in solidarity with the struggles of women and men fighting to achieve implementation of the existing legal provisions concerning waste collectors and to counter the discrimination, risks and oppression they are subjected to every day.

Cynthia Stephen talks about the implications of the language we use around caste as part of our activism and how necessary it is to conceptualize our frameworks of engagement on the terms of the community.

The conversation around reservations continues in Grounded Voices 12.


NAPM India