Originally published in The New Indian Express

BENGALURU: Waste collectors, formerly known as rag pickers, now lead a more dignified life, thanks to an app, i got garbage.

Many members of Clean City Recyclers’ Association told City Express that they gave up substance abuse after technological intervention.

The app, designed by Mindtree with the concept ‘donate your dry waste’, guides collectors to residences registered with it to pick up dry waste.

Manjunath, a waste collector, would earlier sniff whitener to bear the stink of the garbage he picked up. The money he made from dry waste would go towards more drugs.

“I would collect dry waste from near Majestic. I slept in the bus stand or railway station,” he says.

Now a member of the association that has a tie-up with Hasiru Dala, Manjunath feels his profession has a new-found dignity.

“Earlier people treated us with disrespect, and humiliated us. But now we have been given uniforms and ID cards, and we present ourselves professionally. Earlier I lived from day to day. Now I believe that I too have a future,” he says.

He recalls days when people gave them leftovers, sometimes stale food, that they ate. “But now I don’t accept such food. I care about my health and future.”

Fayaz, a former rag picker, now heads the dry waste collection.

“Collecting waste independently fetches good money. But for that you should roam the streets. We also had to dig through garbage piles to find recyclable dry waste, with complete disregard for cleanliness,” he says.

This has changed after joining the group, he adds.

Other rag pickers aren’t as keen to hop on the bandwagon. He says, “It’s because they’ve never given a thought to their future — they have no aim in life. They need to be counselled.”

Meera Arun, a volunteer who has helped build a network of residents from whom dry waste is collected, says, “This is a transformation stage for the rag pickers. This generation may not see much difference, but for a better future, we need to join our hands and improve their lives.”

The initiative will also change public perception of rag pickers, she adds.

Mansoor, another member of the association who is also scrap dealer, says, “About 30 per cent of the city’s dry waste is disposed by rag pickers, but nobody cares about how they live.”

Along with improving the quality of life of rag pickers, the association aims at preventing residents from throwing garbage in vacant sites or on the street, he adds.

“At present, 22 rag pickers’ — sorry dry waste collectors’ — lives have been touched by the initiative,” he says.

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