“I was born in a family of limited means. We were all sent to school, but in the 7th standard my family decided that I should drop out — and I didn’t fight it because I knew that money wasn’t coming in easy. My brothers continued to go to school and I took classes in sewing and embroidery, until the age of 14 when I got married to my husband who was only 16 back then. In our community, this wasn’t unheard off. Even though we were both children, the responsibility on us was immense — my father-in-law was no more and my husband’s brother passed away in a train accident, leaving behind his wife and two children who were to be looked after as well.
At the age of 15, I began to go door to door in big buildings, asking if their trash needed to be collected. I started collecting trash this way and it led to me becoming a rag picker. I was always well received by people who would call me a ‘sweet girl’ or give me sweets to eat, all because I never complained about anything. Some of these people gave me bigger jobs like cleaning their home and I took on them gladly because I knew that my family desperately needed the money.
I became a mother after a few years and I wondered how I would tell my children that this is how I earn my money. I decided I would wait until the right age — but all of my apprehensions disappeared when the time came to send them to school. I realised, that if it weren’t for the 10,000 Rupees I was earning every month…they wouldn’t have an education. I had tears in my eyes as I thanked God for everything — the foul smell of garbage, the hard days of going door to door and the different homes I cleaned.
Both my sons accept my work and there is nothing more I could ask for. I was terrified that they would be embarrassed of me, but they have been so supportive. My younger son recently wrote an essay on me for his class. It was called, ‘My Mother Keeps India Clean’— I didn’t understand a lot of it but it was enough just to know that he wrote about me…I’m a happy mother.”