In India, an estimated 1.5 million people make a living from waste picking. In Delhi alone, the number is guessed to be around 100,000. Who are the waste pickers? They are people: men, women, children, who make a living from sorting through the trash and pulling out recyclables to resell. In Delhi, these people are denied citizenship because they cannot present the government with birth certificates formally documenting their existence. They are denied rights to their livelihoods, which divert nearly 20 percent of Delhi’s waste from landfills, by state laws decreeing that trash is municipally owned, so taking recyclables is considered stealing. They are constantly harassed by police, and their homes, made of refuse salvaged from the landfill, are burned as a means of oppression.
After studying urban planning and public policy in Delhi for five weeks last February I will be returning in September to create a film about the waste pickers and their efforts to organize and advocate for rights. I will be working with Shashi Pandit and the organization that he founded, AIKMM, a member-based organization of over 17,000 waste pickers in Delhi who are fighting to have their work legalized through integration into the formal waste collection system.
The film will follow the waste pickers through their daily lives and struggles. It will focus on how they are attempting to organize and advocate for rights and the obstacles they face in attaining those rights. It will include interviews (translated) with waste pickers asking about their goals and what they need to reach those goals. I hope to also include interviews with experts who can discuss state and global policies that affect the waste pickers. If I am unable to attain interviews with experts or policy makers, I will integrate research on state policy and the impact of globalization and global policies in keeping the waste pickers from accessing rights.
By including interviews with experts who can speak to state policies that affect the waste pickers, I hope to begin exploring the multiple forces that keep the waste pickers from accessing rights. Beginning to understand how social, political and economic forces on local, state and global levels contribute to marginalization will hopefully help inform viable solutions and interventions.
My goal is for this film to be the means by which waste picker’s voices can be heard. With your help, their suppressed calls for recognition will no longer fall on deaf ears. Nobody can know better than the waste pickers themselves what obstacles they face and thus how to help them. What we can do is empower them by giving them an outlet to broadcast their message, and an audience to listen.
The film will be shown at Boston University's sustainable art showcase in the spring, and may be aired on Oregon Public Broadcasting as well.
Waste is not only an issue of the environment, but people too.
Thank you to Avery Williamson for use of her photo as the cover photo for the project, and to Athena Kurry for use of her photos in the project video.
- (28 days)