Balram Netam hailing from Raipur, Chhattisgarh is a waste picker (commonly known as rag pickers), one of the 3 million people employed in this sector who help to keep our cities clean and sustain what little is left of nature in urban and suburban areas of our country.
Despite the weather conditions, every morning with his broomstick, a large dustbin on the back of his waste collection tricycle and a whistle around his neck, Balram leaves home to start his work around 6 a.m.
He visits 3-4 societies, blowing whistles across every house on his way to collect waste. Hearing his whistle everyone keeps the dustbins of their home at the front door, from where he starts collecting it in his big bin. After collecting the waste, he sorts and separates it into recyclable and non-recyclable ones and dumps it in landfills assigned to the area from where it is carried for management.
Balram has been working as a waste picker for more than 20 years now. Despite working for the most undervalued job in the world, Balram feels proud of what he’s doing and loves his work.
Despite working 12 hours a day, he’s only able to earn 6-7000 Rs. per month, which isn’t enough to support his wife and his parents. Waste picking is one of the lowest ranking jobs in the hierarchy of urban informal occupations. A large number of those employed in this occupation are illiterate, unskilled persons, migrants, those lowest in the caste get into it cause they are unable to find any other form of employment.
The waste pickers in India are often unpaid and undervalued but they still fight to keep our cities clean. They usually hail from the most marginalized communities and that contributes to the lack of recognition of their work in the society.
He says ‘the work that we do is of utmost importance to the environment, but people fail to recognize it and often harass us by calling us names and degrading our job.’
Balram thinks the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan by the Prime Minister is a great initiative, but people aren’t following it properly. There’s waste everywhere, every street we enter, Balram tries to collect that as well in his spare time, though it’s not a part of his job. But he gets saddened by the fact that he can’t clean the city all by himself.
If an illiterate like Balram is worried about keeping his country clean, what are we doing? We spend millions on our education, but the one thing we all are doing collectively wrong is that we are not concerned.
We don’t care about how dirty and littered our streets are and how devastating it is for the environment. We need to get inspired by Balam and other waste pickers, look up to them and change our habits.