Rallying the Rag Pickers
Shree Mukti Sanghatana (Women’s Liberation Movement), was established by Jyoti Mhapsekar just over 30 years ago, and was one of the first women’s organisations in India. They now run a whole series of programmes, targeting the poor, aimed to improve the conditions of women in Mumbai.
One such programme is Parisar Vikas, a waste management programme, which employs women rag pickers, aiming to get them a fair price for the waste they collect, while both improving their working conditions and combating the huge waste problem in the city.
A series of recycling plants, composting plants and bio-gas production plants have been established, through which a ‘zero waste’ ideology is espoused. They have the support of the local municipal corporation, which also back the zero waste movement- calling on all households to separate their wet and dry waste materials. This is not always complied with, and so, when I visited the bio gas plant, I found of a group of women having to sort through the rubbish.
It is difficult, unpleasant work, and admittedly my stomach turned when visiting the dumps. Seeing people rummaging through them barefooted, scrambling for what may make them a few rupees, is not a pretty sight.
However, for the women who work in the recycling plants, a steady income is guaranteed, and their health and working conditions are better. There they have the support of a community, and can also link into Shree Mukti Sanghatana’s other programmes, including a counselling service and micro-finance initiatives.
Jyoti emphasised that from the start it has been a huge team effort to keep the organisation running, and growing, and without the dedication of the team, nothing would have happened.
Jyoti, who worked for many years as a librarian, is also a playwright and songwriter, and much of the organisation’s funding has come through drama productions of her plays, which have toured considerably. The biographical notes for one of her plays, ‘A Girl is Born’, reads as follows;
‘Jyoti Mhapsekar is a librarian by profession and a women’s movement activist by choice’.
Her choices means that women are being given a chance, and the structure to improve their own conditions, and the environment are being forged.