It was like a scene from a movie: an illiterate rag-picker from the impoverished streets of Pune speaking on a podium to an audience of over 2000 delegates from around the world.
The 104th International Labour Conference was held from June 1 to June 13 this year in Geneva, Switzerland. Suman More was a guest speaker invited to discuss with world leaders and activists the challenges people of her profession face.
After been driven from her drought-hit hometown, Suman tried desperately to get a job in Pune. Not finding one on account of her caste, Suman tried to make ends meet by picking up waste materials on the streets. But even after 9 hours of hard work she earned only Rs. 30-40 a day, which could not sustain her family of 6. What was more, Suman faced constant harassment from the public due to her profession. Suman recalls, “While picking up the waste, many a time people used to complain or call us thieves, and we were dragged to the police station for no reason. Many a time, the police used to humiliate us as well.”
Things began to change when Suman realized that if the waste was segregated separately, waste management becomes more efficient and easy. Suman and other ragpickers joined hands with the local municipality. Instead of the local corporation collecting the waste and delivering it to the waste management centres, ragpickers began to do this. Since the beginning of this initiative, the lives of ragpickers in the area has become much better. Also, thanks to the work of activists, ragpickers began to earn Rs. 5000 per month and were issued ID cards so that they could do their job with dignity.
Suman worked hard, and managed to put her 4 children through school. They are now grown and doing very well, but in spite of her children’s protests Suman continues to work as a ragpicker. She has been dutifully cleaning the streets of Pune for 37 years, and today she donates whatever she earns to support the education of unprivileged children.
Suman has been attending the Conference as a representative for 2 years now. Suman said, “I was the only one in a sari. The most difficult issue was sitting in the air-conditioned room as I am not used to it. But I managed. Everyone appreciated me and the Indian culture, and the next day, they even tried on my saris!”
The Logical Indian community applauds the perseverance and hard work of Suman More. People like her are an inspiration to us all.
You can listen to her speech https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2_X4z22P9k