Are Women Ragpickers Safe and Protected?


Sonia Rathore, a student of forensics, is currently pursuing her Masters. She is a firm supporter of “Gender Equality” and believes that everyone has their own sense of self-dignity that earns respect. She is an animal lover and has always excelled in academics and all other curricular activities. Born with a knack for writing and steered by the zeal of interest, this young blogger has a great craving for scribbling on pages and voicing it out wherever she feels is appropriate and required. Sonia believes that some day she would be able to change few norms of society and eradicate the social evils that are on the prowl, after all little efforts can bring a lot of changes!

Are Women Ragpickers Safe and Protected?

There are thousands of ragpickers in India, women included. While they do the necessary dirty work how safe are they? In a country where newborns are molested shamelessly and nothing much is done about it, what is the proof that society would help the women rag pickers if they are assaulted and harassed.

Recycling the waste is an essential way to sustainable development and ragpickers of India play a major role in this by collecting and utilising the waste. When the question comes to the safety of the women who are ragpickers, there are possibly no answers. There are number of terrifying incidents that keep taking place all the time.  One such incident that had occurred on the Belapur flyover, Mumbai where a ragpicker aged around 25 years was gang raped. However, due to her brave testimony the accused were sentenced to death. On another occasion, a 15-year old girl had been raped by a head constable of Sagar police station, Mumbai which was quite disheartening. Another incident was the rape of the minor ragpicker near the Mumbai airport. After further investigation, it was found that the accused was married twice and had a history of alcohol-related problems. The girl was victimised when she and her sisters were begging at a traffic signal near the International Airport, Mumbai and the accused was patrolling. Even though the victim’s family pleaded to let go off their daughter, the accused paid no heed to their pleas.

The major problems that are faced by women ragpickers are:

  1. Police harassment: The major problem where policemen don’t support these women rag pickers and prey on them.
  2. Lack of sanitation: Even though women rag pickers are helping the citizens of India by recycling the waste materials but they themselves are forced to live in dirt and filthy conditions.
  3. Lack of education: Without basic education and awareness, these women rag pickers are ignorant to the fact that they have every right to call out for help whenever in need.
  4. Threat from public: Being poor and ignorant, these women are easily targeted by the general public and even other male ragpickers as well.

In one incident, that took place on 21 September, Delhi, a 35 year old female ragpicker was raped, murdered by a 20 year old ragpicker who was a necrophiliac. He later battered the body of the victim with bricks and rods and her naked body was left in Bhalswa landfill. Shocking!

However, in consideration of such grotesque incidents the Government and many organisations have taken initiative to protect and empower these ragpickers.

Few of them are:

  1. The Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) Ahmedabad, has bought into existence a unique battery-powered rickshaw to lessen the burden of waste carried by these rag pickers(women), so that they don’t have to walk long distances and could earn and possibly be safe.
  2. National award for ragickers– Even though this scheme only awards a cash prize of 1.5 lakhs to the best three ragpickers (men and women), it does play an important role in the life of a woman ragpicker as well since it provides her an aim and encourages her to work harder.
  3. The ACORN Foundation India charitable Trust has introduced the training of every ragpicker in field of scientific methods of waste handling, segregation and recycling. This scheme is great since the more trained the women rag pickers are, the more skilled they become and the more they earn which can give them support, stability and a regular income. 
  4. Helplines, Trusts and agencies-  There are a lot of trusts and agencies that are working to educate and protect these homeless ragpickers (women).

With all these schemes and steps and possibly with our personal contribution, we might hope to lay the foundation for a safer country where women rag pickers are recognised for their contribution and not harmed in any way or by any one.

Opinions are of the writer.


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