They are a usual sight in the morning. They believe in the old saying “early birds catch the worms”. They are probably on the streets even earlier than the street sweeper, Arjan Singh, and morning walkers. With their super size poly bag hanging over their shoulders, they cannot be missed. Sometimes they come in groups of two or three or sometimes alone. They collect anything of value in their assessment e.g. beer and wine bottles, beer and juice cans, glass and plastic bottles, cardboarboxes, poly bags and sheets, leather items and anything they can lay their hands on. The prized catch however is any steel or iron item, the bigger and larger the better.
Rag Pickers in Delhi increased after India Pakistan War of 1971. Just as in 1947 w Muslim demanded a separate country and the country was divided into two India and Pakistan (West East) and by the then rulers, the British, in the same way, Bengali Muslim in East Pakistan demanded a separate country and Bangladesh was created with the blessings of then Prime Minister of India Mrs. Indira Gandhi after the war of 1971 with Pakistan. The immediate provocation for war with Pakistan was the influx of some two million refugees who crossed over to India from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Many of these refugees stayed back and many more joined after that also, as India shares a very porous border with Bangladesh. These migrants are treated illegal but have somehow mingled with the social set up mainly because they speak one of our recognized languages, Bengali. Political reasons notwithstanding, the real problem is their poverty. They are engaged in all types of menial jobs like rickshaw pullers, daily wagers, domestic servants etc.
The rag pickers in a way help the Municipal authorities. In their absence, perhaps it will be upon the Local Government to dispose off this garbage. They collect all the garbage from the localities and deliver it to the scrap dealers who in turn pass it on to re-cyclists. The recycled products come back to consumers. It is a well- oiled business where the ultimate beneficiaries are the middlemen and businessmen.
The economic and social condition of these rag pickers remains pitiable. While the mornings are for rag picking, the days are for begging at the busy road crossings. The girl children are exploited and some of them land up in brothels. The grown ups’ main concern is to earn two meals worth of money.
They are entitled to no social security under various Government schemes because they are not the citizens of the country. Their country of origin, Bangladesh, does not accept them as its citizens. They were landless laborers and hence cannot submit any proof of citizenship. Attempts made by the Indian Authorities to deport them have proved futile so far. The fact is they do not want to return also. Those who have managed to obtain ration cards and voters’ cards are little more comfortable because they get food grains at subsidized rates. During election time they get some free bees. May be one day they will get citizenship also under some amnesty scheme. It looks illegal migration is universal.