Waste pickers are some of the most deprived communities in India, but a new initiative by The Body Shop is offering them a lifeline. Andrea Thompson went to meet women in Bangalore whose lives are being transformed
It is through clouds of dust, on a dirty rubbish dump that I first see Dolly – her immaculate, brightly coloured sari strangely at odds with her surroundings. The 22-year-old stands under a flapping white plastic awning attempting to shade herself from the intense 35˚c heat, a six-month-old baby girl on her hip. Her aunt and sister-in-law crouch on the ground nearby, busily separating filthy plastic waste from paper, and broken glass with their bare hands, while a small child pads nonchalantly between them, barefoot.
We are in the heart of the fastest growing Indian city of Bangalore. It is unbearably hot, and the air is thick with a grey dust that sticks in the throat. But for Dolly, this is home. As a waste picker, her days are spent with 11 members of her husband’s family, who all live here too, separating waste dumped here from across the city for recycling. ‘I’ve been picking waste since I left school five years ago,’ says Dolly, who moved to India’s busy tech hub of Bangalore last year from her family home in Delhi after getting married. ‘It is hard, sometimes dangerous work. We step on broken glass or get bitten by stray dogs. We get lots of back problems from bending down. But my dream is to make some money so I can have a farm of my own in the countryside. I don’t want my daughter to do this work.’