#WorldDayAgainstChildLabour – Where A Dumpyard Nurtures ‘Little Dreams’

Hasbul plays with toy laptop gifted by his father on Eid-ul-fitr

In the Jahangirpuri area of Delhi, children and youngsters have big dreams that are stuck in the mire of garbage since their early childhood days. They have dreams to open mobile shops, an internet café, become a driver, an electrician, but all of their lives are tangled in collecting garbage, to feed themselves each day. They often feel stigmatised for doing such work, but that feeling is teamed with a sense of pride, for keeping the national capital clean. As Khurshid said “Without us (waste collectors) it would have been difficult for Delhi to maintain its cleanliness. We hope for a better life where we can feel equal to rest of the society.”

Close friends Hasbul and Malik are going to sell waste material they have collected from the road. They study in class 2. They go to school from 7 am to 12 pm. After school they collect waste from the road and neighbouring areas.

Every day waste collection earns Hasbul and Malik around Rs. 100 to splurge on an egg roll, mango shake, nahari (stew), and chowmein, something they consider a treat.

Hasbul and Malik (green T-shirts) along with other friends during a break after collecting waste material. Malik says “When I will grow up I will do only work as a waste collector. Otherwise how will I earn?”. Malik’s father is mentally challenged. He looks after by his mother too, who works in waste segregation at a junk dealer shop.

Majida Biwi, Malik’s mother is a waste segregation worker at a warehouse. She is the sole breadwinner of the family including her husband who is mentally ill and her two children. She earns INR 7500 (111 USD) per month.

Sameer (L) studies in class 2 and joins Hasbul and Malik for rag picking. They love posing for the camera.

Rihana, 12, works with her brother   in   law to support her family by earning INR 200 (3 USD) a day.

Jahangir, 12, dropped out after class 2 and works with his parents segregating cartons based on their size.

Maqsuuda, 15, returns after collecting waste from roads and colonies nearby.

Maqsuuda said “I have never been to school. I am working since I was 5 years old. Pet paalna hai. School jaane ka time kahan hai (I need to earn for our survival. There is no time to go to school).” Her father doesn’t work, instead he is addicted to alcohol and takes money from Maqsuuda to buy alcohol. She along with her 10 year old brother Happyzul earns approximately INR 15000 per month. Sometimes her mother goes along with them for waste collection.

Aarfa (L) and Arjuman are friends in the neighbourhood studying in class 8. Aarfa is fond of painting and Arjuman wants to learn english language. Arjuman says “I will be lucky if my father sends me to college after my school.” After school they help out in household chores.

Bilal, Kareem, Ruleema and Asmat study in class 7. They sometimes collect waste from the sewer. Eid-Ul-Fir is one of those occasions when they work so that they are able to buy new clothes and go to movies. They collect bottles, plastic, metal items and sell these to the local waste seller. On a lucky day when they collect waste on the road they find wallets with money, mobile phone and other expensive items.

Bilal (C), Kareem (R) and Noor (L) are spotted enjoying during a break from work.

Bilal wants to become an electrician as his father doesn’t earn good money. Noor and Kareem want to open their own mobile shops.

Pawan, 15, dropped out after class 9, left his parents’ home in fit of rage. He says he likes this work because it gets him INR 6000 (89 USD) per month. He works from 8 am to 9 pm.

Hameeda, 17, supports her parents in segregating waste that her parents collect from homes in middle class localities. “I miss going to school” she says, “but I have to look after my three younger siblings when my parents go to work.” Hameeda is fond of reading and writing, so she borrows books from her friends and reads them in free time.

Moina, 10 months, is sleeping in a cradle. She is the youngest of four siblings of Hameeda along with 6 year old Habiba and 10 year old Saleem.

Habeeba, 6, younger sister of Hameeda, plays with a doll she found in the waste her parents collected from houses.

Akbar Ali, 17, says “this is a dirty job, but there is money in this work.” He wants to get married but fears he will not be accepted as his job is Kabaad ka Kaam (working with junk). He never went to school because his mother passed away when he was a just a child. His father was a rickshaw puller; an alcoholic and not concerned about his family. “Earlier I used to collect waste from the roads but that was dangerous as sometimes people or police called him a thief.” He now works 12 hours a day with a junk dealers and earns INR 9000 per month.

Saajan, 20, wanted to study during but could not as he needed to support his family. “I do not like this waste segregation work; it stinks but I have no other option,” he says.

Haleema, 20, was married at 12. Though she never went to school, her younger sister has taught her reading and writing. Separated from her husband she lived with her 5-year-old daughter.

As a photographer, I have spent days to understand and document the lives of young waste collectors in the Jahangirpuri area of New Delhi. The parents and grandparents of these children, migrated mostly from parts of West Bengal to Delhi in search of a better livelihood. But ended up as ‘urban waste collectors’ where they earn enough just to survive. As Khurshid says “life is good if one ignores the stench of garbage.”

This article was originally published on DAJI, and republished with the permission of the photographer Rohit Jain.

Photo Credits : Rohit Jain

Words By : Rohit Jain / DAJI

Rohit Jain is an independent Social Documentary Photographer based in New Delhi. He focuses on human and life development stories. Previously he worked with Hindustan Times. You can see his work here.

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