Waste pickers face public apathy during coronavirus lockdown

Prajakta Joshi
Friday, 27 March 2020

As the waste pickers continue to collect garbage from door-to-door during this coronavirus crisis, they are facing stigma and rude treatment from the citizens, whose waste they have been collecting to keep Pune clean.

PUNE: Sarubai Sham Waghmare, a waste picker associated with SWaCH has been collecting garbage in the city since she was ten. 

“I think I am around 50 years old now. But never have I been treated the way people have started treating my co-workers and me since the nationwide lockdown has been announced,” Waghmare said, sadness and disappointment in her voice.

As the waste pickers continue to collect garbage from door-to-door during this situation of crisis, they are facing stigma and rude treatment from the citizens, whose waste they have been collecting to keep the city clean.

“Earlier, people used to come out of their houses when I went to collect waste, talked to me, offered me water. But now, they just rush to shove the garbage out of their doors, and hurry back indoors. They blatantly ask us to leave quickly. It feels bad, that we are risking lives for everyone, and nobody cares,” Waghmare said. 

This is the story of most waste pickers across the city. “A few housing societies and citizens have also asked us not to collect waste until March 31. A few others have asked us to come only once in a few days,” said waste picker Pinky Sonawane, who works in Aundh.

Waste picker Vidya Naiknavare, who is working in the Dhankawadi Sahakar-Nagar area, said, “We understand that people are scared. We are also scared. But some people are throwing the waste into my pushcart from afar instead of giving in my hand. Some others are just leaving waste on the road, and then I have to pick it up; otherwise, I will get into trouble. That’s not the treatment we deserve.”

The residents of Sainagar Vasti in Sinhagad Road area have prohibited the waste pickers living in the slums to go to work.

“The residents fear that while collecting waste, the waste pickers might get infected, and are not allowing them to leave the premises,” said SWaCH Coordinator Sandhya Dhamale. 

“We tried to explain to the residents that the waste pickers are taking all the precautions, and they need to go out to collect the waste, but the fearful citizens are not ready to listen. They said that if the waste pickers leave for work, they will not let them come back home until the lockdown is over. This will not only affect the garbage collection but will also snatch the income sources away from our workers,” Dhamale added.

She also said that the waste pickers travelling from different areas of the city are not able to get a bus, as buses don’t stop for them, despite wearing a uniform and carrying identity cards.

“I waited for four hours for a bus to travel from Bibwewadi to Bhandarkar Road, but there was no mode of transport available. I walked to Swargate, but I could not get any bus to go further. Finally, I walked all the way back,” waste picker Rama Tupere said.

Reacting over the same, Pune Mahanagar Parivahan Mahamandal Ltd (PMPML) Traffic Manager Anant Waghmare said that the problem had been taken care of by the PMPML.

“Earlier, the buses were only running on the special routes designated by us. However, now we have also decided to keep buses running every hour from 6 am to 10 pm on the standard routes as well to avoid confusion amongst people. Those who have identity cards will get bus service,” Waghmare added. 

“All we need in this hour of crisis is a little support,” said Saru Waghmare.

“Make sure you segregate the waste properly before you give it to us. It will help protect us from any kind of infection to some extent. Wrap your sanitary napkins and papers properly in a paper before throwing in the dustbins,” she added.

Dhamale said that some waste pickers are also afraid that they might still be carrying garbage from the homes of those who have been asked to self-quarantine.

“The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has made arrangements for garbage from such homes to be picked up separately, but we have heard that everybody is not doing that. So, if you have been quarantined, make sure you do not mix your garbage with others. And do not give it to the waste pickers the same day, but keep it in your house at least for 10-12 hours beforehand,” Dhamale added.




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