“Everybody was staring at us, as we are thieves. In 2005 we had to face lathi charge from the police at Connaught place, they beat us up ruthlessly and blamed us for stealing the stuff. I got disappointed and decided to quit at once. I abruptly thought about other fellow rag pickers and decided to fight for our legal rights. A thought was striking my mind that today it’s me, tomorrow other rag pickers will be targeted”. Later the policemen were suspended. We fought for our rights that moment, and we are still fighting for our rights”. Says Jaiprakash Chaudhary.
Santu’s journey started in 1994
Jaiprakash Chaudhary stepped out of his home and went to Delhi in the year 1994. As a 17-year-old, when children of his age would enjoy going to college, enjoy playing with friends, ask their parents for every new stuff which has arrived in the market, he left his parents, five sisters and four brothers to earn bread for them.
People know him by the name of Santu. “Everybody calls me Santu now, most of them are not well versed with the other name, this is the sign of their love to me,” says Jaiprakash.Santu who came from Munger District in Bihar returned to his home three months later in the same year after realising that working for the whole day at a fruit shop for just Rs 20 was not enough for him and his family as well.
“I could not see my parents suffering and my siblings starving, so I decided to pack my bag again. This time I prefer to pick up the wastage from the roads and dumped places, it gave me the amount of Rs 150 a day” said Santu. While making his tone a bit louder in enthusiasm, he added, “After six months I built a godown where 40 people joined me, and we start working”.
How Santu met Chintan
In the same year in 1994, an NGO named Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group, that works with waste pickers and other recyclers to create a livelihood for them did a survey on the environment and came to know about Santu’s work. The NGO supported him and his team respectively.
started purchasing dry waste from trash collectors and re-sold them on a roadside shop in Raja Bazar jhuggi in 1996. “I was harassed by police and civic body officials for years. Even today some people believe that waste pickers are thieves and many people look at them with contempt,” says Santu. Chintan used to train Santu and his companions through workshops about their legal rights and work procedure.
Santu, who used to earn at most Rs 150 a day by digging through garbage for recyclables, now sells stuff redeemed from trash which makes today the amount of Rs 11 lakh every month. Besides that, the former ragpicker has employed 160 people at his two waste segregation points in Delhi.
When Santu showed courage
Although, Santu who is now a 40-year old fellow, is in the capital for more than a decade now, but, the years he has spent so far have been quite momentous for him. From a helper to the labourer this waste picker is now a famous poster boy for ragpickers. In the year 1999, Santu with the support of Chintan created an organisation of rag pickers and named them as Safai Sena. It later got registered in 2009 with having 10,000-12,000 members now in it. His whole aim was to help his ilk to fight against the discrimination they were facing.
Santu represented India in 2009 in the places like Copenhagen in Denmark, Luxembourg and Brazil, by challenging the idea of waste-to-energy power plants and supported recycling rather, contending that “Recycling can lift thousands out of poverty, while incinerating waste only creates pollution. Today everyone from his family to relatives, from teachers to his friends are proud of him.
“I was removed because colonies began coming up close to my waste godowns. The displacements caused financial losses, but I held on to hope,” Santu told when his waste storehouse was pulled down in early 2000. Later in 2012, he established waste segregation centre in Sikandarpur area in Ghaziabad, quite away from the human settlements. After that Santu formed one more segregation point near the New Delhi Railway Station, where he employed 160 people altogether.
“We get two types of wastes, dry waste and wet waste. We make fertilisers out of wet waste and use dry waste for segregation and recycling”. Said Santu while speaking with The Logical Indian. He further added that the fertilisers are given to the malls and hotels for free as of now, but they want a separate market to sell these fertilisers in future. In the mission of earning bread for himself and his family, this rag picker unintentionally helped hundreds of families too.
“Chintan is now helping the children of these rag pickers to get educated. They have also started taking classes of three hours and teaching their kids in wee hours”. Said Santu.
Santu always wanted to make society and people understand that waste pickers are the backbone of the society. Not thieves, not untouchables, but the human beings like them. Chitra Mukherjee who heads the operations at Chintan said “We are proud to work with him and safai sena, they are doing very very productive work. They proved that waste is a resource that can be used to alleviate poverty”.
“It’s very fruitful to work with them. Their voices need to be heard”. Mukherjee added.
An appeal to the government
Santu seemed not happy but very disappointed with the recent implementation of GST on waste. He claimed that instead of implementing GST government should take steps to upgrade recycling completely, as it promotes a clean environment. He said, “It’s very difficult to deal with the waste, I want everyone to understand this fact”.
“A person if wants can change his fate, provided he/she is enthusiastic and dedicated to life. You will find ups and downs in life, but instead of giving up, we should go on”.
Visit Safai Sena website for more details: http://www.safaisena.net/
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