Have you ever thought twice before throwing that empty plastic packet smack in the middle of the road? Ever thrown up from the side of the car and wondered who’d have to clean it? Do you think it’s part of nature’s great mysteries that the million tonnes of waste being unleashed onto ‘God’s green earth’ every day disappear the next day? There are scores of men and women, who wake up in the wee hours of the morning, put on their masks and set forth to clean their city. No one thanks them, and most people don’t even give a second thought to them. But there they are – the silent saviours – doing their bit to help save the environment that we have been taking for granted for a long time now.
Hasiru Dala, a non-profit organisation in Bengaluru, is fighting for the cause of these and is creating quite a stir in the peripheries of ‘polite society’. Combining the didactic efforts of Founder and Director Nalini Shekar, and Co-founder and Managing Director Shekar Prabhakar, Hasiru Dala aims to bring about social justice for the waste-pickers of Bengaluru and include them in society’s dialogue of social waste management.
Nalini Shekhar worked with waste-pickers in 1991 in Pune and was one of the founders of an organisation called Kagad, Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP), which was the first trade union of waste-pickers. That’s when she started working with waste-pickers for the first time. On moving to Bengaluru, she found that waste-pickers weren’t being included in the dialogue of solid waste management, and she took it on herself to gain recognition for this community.
She undertook a survey which showed that more than a 1,050 tonnes of waste were being managed by the waste-pickers everyday which can cater up to about 84 crores per year. This got the attention of the people of Bengaluru and they started realising the worth and skill of the waste pickers.
Although the company was established in 2015, the trust was established earlier in 2013. Since then, the initiative has been in full-swing and has created more than 62 jobs for waste pickers. In collaboration with the Clean City Recyclers Association (CCRA), they aim to turn these waste pickers into entrepreneurs by teaching them to hone their skills.
SocialStory got in touch with Shekar Prabhakar over the phone and learned in detail about this great initiative that is being undertaken by Hasiru Dala for the past couple of years.
The training process
“Waste-pickers generally tend to be masters of their own time,” says Prabhakar. According to him, there are two stages of the training. As mentioned before, the aim is to start giving them entrepreneurial opportunities to run successful businesses or become service providers with franchise models. For this, they require training. The organisation has a couple of training modules for this purpose. For the scrap dealers, they provide for a business management programme in association with Jain University, where they provide a certificate course on how to run a trading business, since scrap-dealers essentially run a trading business. Here, they are taught the importance of the profitability of a business.
The recruitment process
There are eight zones in Bengaluru, and each zone has a zonal co-ordinator who goes to these places and interacts with the people there. This is the grass-root level of organising an engagement. Through this, the waste-pickers are informed about health insurance and other benefits. The organisation has a set-base for every month where 60 to 100 of them come into the office and discuss all their problems. The same people go back to their villages and tell their friends about these new opportunities and hence entail the recruitment process.
Social conditions of the waste-pickers
“Creation has to go hand in hand with social justice,” says Prabhakar. Since the majority of the waste-pickers arise from the Dalit community, they are usually shunned from polite society. So their ability to interact with people outside their own community is limited. Even in the slums where they live, they are made to live in the periphery of the area. There is a wide notion that waste picking is an ‘unclean occupation’. That is why Hasiru Dala has been pushing for government-recognised ID cards for them which, since its inception, have managed to bring about a radical change in their social status. They now have clients, who give them tea when they visit the house, and once someone even threw a dinner party for them in their home. So there has definitely been a progressive change in the mindset of the people of Bengaluru towards the waste pickers.
To add to this, the company produces a ‘product-compost kit’ which, instead of being couriered to the customer’s house, is delivered to them by a waste picker whose responsibility it is to explain to them how the product works and can be set up. As a result, the social equation for these will change from being at the receiving end to the giving end. “We are trying to do a lot of things that not only generate livelihood but also breaks social stigmas,” Shekar adds.
While the company focuses on livelihood creation, the non-profit focuses on social justice.
“If we can keep the child in school, we can break the cycle of poverty,” he says. Hasiru Dala aims to give the child the option to choose their own destiny. To this end, they are granted educational scholarships through the Government, of which about 400 have been generated since. They also collaborate with organisations like Mindtree, which grants about 80 scholarships a year for about 5000 rupees each which also provides for books and uniforms, as per 2015’s numbers. They also tie up with other organisations, and together, they try to identify hostels that will provide free accommodation for these students, as well as identify nearby schools for securing admissions.
“We’ve provided accommodation for about 80 students, but only 60 decided to stick on. The scholarship is applicable till the 10th standard, the students for which are encouraged to attend college as well, especially the girls, so that they are not married off as soon as they come of age,” says Prabhakar.
How it works
The aim is to try and minimise the direct employment of waste pickers, as according to them, they are innate entrepreneurs and should be given the freedom to set up their own business. To this extent, they do the marketing and the contracting with the client on their behalf for a minimum of a year. They then give these projects to individual heads who then produce units of five, each unit being given a truck – one driver plus four waste pickers. It is a totally decentralised operation, giving the leader of each unit the autonomous power to run their own small businesses. “They take care of the business for us, so we don’t have to worry about things like absenteeism and so on because they manage it for us,” says Prabhakar. By granting them this freedom, instead of one franchise, they could run multiple franchises. There is an opportunity for them to aspire for big things. At the end of the four years, they get ownership of the truck and can choose to either keep to this profession of waste management or do something else.
The company plans
The company services over 20,000 households. So far they have generated over 62 jobs for waste pickers, and their target by the end of three years is to grow or create up to 300 entrepreneurial jobs for waste pickers.
“We are growing at a rate of about 3.5 percent a month. We hope to grow by about 15 percent a month by the end of the year. We want to stabilise and consolidate in Bengaluru but are planning on expanding to Mysore, Jamshedpur and more. We also plan to get into irrigation soon,” concludes Prabhakar.