IT was more than a year ago, when I met Tahir and his feisty gang of friends. Not just Tahir, but I met many such ‘gangs’ of spirited boys & girls, so full of zest and life. All live within an area of a few square kms in the Northern fringes of Delhi. In fact the fast moving traffic on the Grand Trunk road, before it branches off to the direction of Chandigarh and other parts of North India screens their lives beyond a man made hill which overlooks this highway.
Infact as you drive closer to this mound or hillock, it turns out to be larger than it seems. And at a particular point when you cross a small bridge over a maidan, the stench hits you. The stench emanates from this hillock and you realize it’s actually a huge mound of garbage, as you begin noticing lines of municipal trucks crawling along towards the hill to dump their daily load picked up from different parts of the city.
As you strain your eyes to see, the view becomes clearer and you see some trucks on the edge, above the hillock, spilling their booty down the hillside and what is this…sliding down the hill along with the garbage are rag/garbage pickers of all ages trying to get to the choicest dump first…and their booty….pieces of iron, glass bottles, sometimes brass pieces, shoes, torn clothes, paper, cardboard pieces, anything…just about anything can fetch them a price….a rupee, five rupees, maybe more.
And among these garbage sorters…I met Tahir, his younger brother Shabir and the youngest brother Sachin (who insists on being called by that name because he loves playing cricket) their friends Sameer, and the rest.
There’s Beena, Rupa, Rani, Hare Ram, Ajay Tiwari, Sunita, Momina, Abhishek, Vishal, Islamuddin, Ravi, Harish Kumar, Dharamveer Sharma, Krishna Kumar Saha, Balwant, Jaswant, Jyoti, Vinod Kumar, Gaurav Gupta, Khushi, Babita, Rakesh, Afsana, Ranjit, Azad, Barkha, Mujibar, who is also physically impaired, Murshida, Babloo, Sandeep, Shivlal, Manisha and her brother Vaidyanath, Krishna, Ajit, Shatrugan, Nitesh, Anil, Ashok, Madhu, Amir, Murshida, Mohinder, Arjun and Meena, Akil, Kamlesh and Geeta,
In the area closest to the Katta, as the municipal dump is called here, lives little Neelam, who lives on the slope on one of the sides of the katta. She has grown up playing…and collecting garbage here, her little hands are deft at sorting the muck found on the slopes and quickly grasping pieces, which will give her some money.
Im taking pains to remember all their names to write them down here so each of them gets noticed, here in cyber space. That’s the least I can do for them for now…for its certain their existence will go unnoticed, and through this post, maybe a few will read about their lives.
Many years of reporting about people living in different conditions, affected by tragedies, disasters, civic problems, crime, bomb blasts, even plane crashes, had not prepared me for mingling with them. I can easily say they live among some of the harshest conditions, in crowded by lanes of slums & resettlement colonies, without much electricity or clean drinking water. And what is the future they can look forward to?
World Vision India, a child focused NGO, runs a programme for all these children to eliminate all forms of child labor. The idea is to first wean them away from any sort of labor they do…be it on the katta, working in factories or homes. The children are first enrolled into non-formal education and then prepared for formal education. Many of them make it to school, like Tahir did. They just need Rs 45 per month, which is the fee for study in a government run school and plenty of encouragement to leave their ragbags, pick up school bags and nuture their dreams.
See below the film made on them by us at Bright Lite, and my colleague Paarul Chand, in 2007, called “Salaam ADP”, commissioned by World Vision, ADP, North Delhi (ADP stands for Area Development Programme).