This haven for kabadiwalas waits for acceptance, facilities

Once you leave Adarsh Nagar Metro station and walk towards ‘C’ Block of Jahangirpuri you step into a new world. A haven for kabadiwalas where they live, eat, drink and sleep on the roadside. An outsider will take a while to become acclimatised to the place.

Since 1970s, Islam Baba, 72-year-old, has had his spot blocked on a road leading to ‘C’ Block.

“I have been living here since early 70s. We used to live in Wazirpur when we were asked to shift to a resettlement colony in Jahangirpuri around 1974. We are kabbadiwalas and we have been into this business for many generations,” he adds.

Today also Islam starts his day early morning in search of waste to sell and make a living.
“I start my day at 6 am and in summer I start with the break of dawn. Morning hours are crucial for us, we make 30 to 40 per cent of our earnings during that time. And at least one person from every family in ‘C’ Block leaves home early morning to collect waste,” he says.

The old man says that his son has his own shanty on the roadside where he lives with his family. Asked why they live on a roadside, Islam replied, “When we were allotted plots they were meant for a single family. But now almost every household has got three to four families. So we are left with no choice but to live on the streets.” He adds that he had to sell his plot for the wedding of his daughter.
Islam is a great-grandfather now and the young ones are also carrying forward the family legacy.
“Times have changed and nowadays more emphasis is on plastic and e-waste. But during our days we used to be on the look out for iron and other metals from the scrap,” he adds.

Children say they don’t have any option but to collect waste and sell it to earn their livelihood.

“Poverty, illiteracy and unemployment are rampant in the area. So what chance do we have? We are forced to work as ragpickers,” asks 10-year-old Rehan, great grandson of Islam.

No education
“I study from the torn books I collect from the waste. But my parents can’t afford to send us to school because if I go to a school I won’t be able to chip in for the family,” adds Rehan.

Jahangirpuri comprises of around 20 blocks which house families of wastepickers. Around 20 per cent of the five lakh population of Jahangirpuri is into the business of collecting waste.

Frequent electricity outages, lack of adequate drinking water and no proper facility for the disposal of sewage, among others problems make things difficult for this community.
“We have always been looked at with contempt. Civic agencies and other organisations have done nothing to provide basic amenities in the area,” says Hema, a ragpicker who lives in ‘C’ Block, which has some 4,500 households.

“There is a huge dearth of facilities forcing us to move to other areas,” she adds.
According to senior officials with North Delhi Municipal Corporation, kabadiwalas have encroached upon almost all the roads.

“Most of the people engaged in collecting waste are Bengali Muslims who migrated to Delhi from Bihar, West Bengal and Bangladesh. Around 12,000 voters in this ward are Bengali Muslims. They have been asked to move away from streets but they don’t listen,” says an official with North Corporation.

“It becomes an Herculean task for the civic agency to provide basic sanitation facilities in the area,” he adds.

But life is different for those who live in Model Town.
“I have never gone to any of the blocks which are popularly known as the resettlement colonies in Jahangirpuri. I feels like its a different world altogether. It doesn’t seem like the part of the national capital,” says Alok Tripathi, an engineer with a private firm.
“The living conditions here are worse than that of the villages in the outskirts of Delhi,” he adds.

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