Bangalore is the ‘Silicon Valley’ of India – a rapidly growing city supposedly competing in the modern age with the West – but poorly lacking in modern infrastructure and cleanliness. The sheer volume of rubbish dumped at the side of the road here in Bangalore is astonishing. Street traders dump their waste out on the road, passers by add to it, customers of the same establishment add their leftovers and the piles accumulate. These in turn attract wild dogs, cows, goats and rats all scavenging for scraps. The rotting rubbish combined with the heat creates a putrid stench.
Bangalore’s Refuse Collectors
These are the unsanitary conditions that refuse collectors and ‘street’ cleaners have to deal with. They are not given any clothing protection other than perhaps a thin jacket and have to work without gloves, usually in flip flops, and without masks sifting and sorting rubbish. For this highly unpleasant job they are paid INR 6000 pcm (£60pcm). They are called “pourakarmikas” here.
No rights for workers
There has been a public consultation recently as it transpired that the contractors employing these workers are making deductions from these wages if workers, for example, take medical leave. One worker (reported in The Times of India) received only INR 2,300 (£23) last month after deductions.They are also denied access to basic amenities such as a toilet.
Now it doesn’t take a genius to work out that no one can live on INR2,300 in a month. It is difficult to imagine how anyone can live on INR 6000 pcm when there are bills to pay including rent and school fees, never mind basic necessities such as food. With the price of 1kg of tomatoes ‘soaring’ at the moment (the recent drought wiped out some crops) these street cleaners receive a daily wage less than the price of a kilo of tomatoes. To add insult to injury these workers are expected to pay for their owns brooms to work with. It is truly astonishing.
There was a High Court Order last year to implement basic rights for workers but this has been ignored by contractors. Workers feel vulnerable as they do not have permanent contracts and can be replaced at anytime by someone else. There are plenty of people without jobs willing to take the work, at whatever rate.
What happens in the UK?
Compare this to the UK where the Street Pride teams collect refuse from each house weekly, street bins are emptied, streets are swept and cleaned. All completed by Local Authority workers in full protective gear, with appropriate equipment, on a decent wage (at least the National Minimum Wage of £7.20 per hour for people aged 25 and over), and with rights and entitlements to holiday and time off work. The Street Pride teams are respected for keeping our streets clean and tidy in an efficient manner. We know they work hard for all the community in all weathers. It’s something I have come to appreciate even more now I live in Bangalore.
Society needs to change
It is difficult to understand the behaviour of individuals who collectively make up a society that firstly thinks it is acceptable to dump rubbish and rotting food on the road and secondly thinks it is ok to treat the people who’s job it is to clean it up with such appalling disdain. It is a sad reflection of society here that refuse collectors, who do a very necessary job here in Bangalore, are rarely treated as human beings. Who in their right mind thinks it is acceptable that workers do not have access to a toilet? Why is it acceptable that they are not given protective clothing? Why are the wages so incredibly poor for such an essential job? Why is there not outrage that this is happening and support for these workers?
The people of Bangalore need to take a long hard look at themselves in the mirror and see the person that is contributing to this mess. Each time someone throws rubbish on the floor it is contributing to the problem. Finished your chai? Don’t throw the cup on the floor – place it in a bin. If there is no bin – take it home with you and put it in the bin there. Yes, that really is what happens in the UK – if there is no rubbish bin people take their rubbish home with them. They do not dump it and leave it for someone else to pick up after them. Don’t litter.
Citizens also need to reflect on how they treat each other just because of the job they do. Is it really acceptable that a worker has no access to a toilet, no protective gear and is paid a pittance ? Let me answer that for you – it is not. So why do you let it happen? Ignoring the issue does not make it go away. Treat all people as human beings and with dignity and respect. Society will be better for it.
Ignoring and contributing to a problem does not resolve it. Really be the change you want to see. Please.