Pune: For Supriya Bhadakwad, a 40-year-old waste picker in the city, the day starts at 8 am by collecting garbage from societies to sorting the waste collected and her work finishes by 4 pm. Meanwhile, Bhadakwad avoids drinking water or if she needs it, she sips a little water.
Even, Saru Sham Waghmare (42) echoed a similar plight. “During emergency, we secretly enter society toilets, especially during periods. None of the societies allow us to use their toilets and there are not many public toilets on streets as well. Sometimes, no other option is left but to relieve ourselves in the open, but then people taunt us and tell us not to dirty the place,” said Waghmare.
As the world is slowly waking up to the issue of health and hygiene of women, the waste pickers are still a neglected lot in the country when it comes to hygiene. With no public toilets, the condition of these women becomes worse during summer and during menstruation. “We avoid drinking water throughout the day since we do not have any access to public toilets. It becomes worst during menstrual cycles when we need to clean up at times. Due to overused sanitary napkins, we mostly develop rashes between our thighs.
“After work in the evening, have to apply cream and wear loose clothes so that it does not increase further,” said Bhadakwad who has been working as rag picker for past 30 years.
“During summers, these conditions intensify. Our skin starts peeling off due to exposure to heat. Further, due to less water intake and heat, we also suffer from dehydration, urinary tract infection (UTI) and weakness. We do not have any alternative to prevent ourselves from these conditions,” added Bhadakwad.
“Besides, we do not have any sorting shed where we can sit and sort the waste and also take some rest. When we feel tired, we take rest in a shed in open areas. Even then, people shoo us away, saying we are waste pickers and will dirty the place,” said Waghmare.
Study by SPPU
In a similar type of survey conducted by Sociology Department of Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU), 43 per cent out of 100 women surveyed by the department face risk to their health while 39 per cent have normal health condition.
Only 15 pc women were found to be healthy.
About 70 pc women suffer from arthritis, 51 pc have weak eyesight and 27 pc women suffer from fever and weakness, UTI, sore legs etc, during their menstrual cycle due to working under unhygienic conditions and not being able to use clean toilets.
Around 58 per cent of women are deprived of Jan Aarogya Bima policy. While most of them have applied for enrollment in this policy, only 42 per cent have obtained a card.
They are often exposed to glass material or knife during segregation of waste.
Around 55 pc women receive cuts or scratched by glass or knives. About 28 per cent women suffer from dog bites and insect bites. These make them susceptible to serious health issues.
Most of the women are from Scheduled Tribes. Out of this, 50 per cent women are of Matang community. Whereas, 32 per cent women are from Mahar caste and 10 per cent women from the Navbodh community.
Remaining eight per cent women are from other communities.
According to the survey, 53 per cent women were around 40 years.
Around 66 per cent women know how to sign while only 19 per cent women have completed their primary education and 14 per cent have completed their secondary education.