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Mumbai teenager brightens up Diwali for city’s rag-picker community

by Suman Gupta

  • 15 year old Sanjana Runwal donates sanitary pad vending machine to women rag-pickers

  • Offers healthy meal to about 200 rag-pickers

  • Provides financial assistance for the education of rag-pickers’ kids

Mumbai 31st October 2019: A 15-year-old city girl, Sanjana Runwal, through her NGO – Clean Up Foundation, brightened up Diwali for one of the city’s most essential yet vulnerable communities – the rag-pickers. At an event held in Bandra on the Diwali weekend in association with the ‘H’ West ward of MCGM, she donated a sanitary pad vending machine to the women rag-pickers and offered a healthy meal to about 200 rag-pickers. CleanUpFoundation also provided financial assistance for the education of the children of the rag-pickers. Sanjana started an initiative called ‘revolution for Rag Pickers’ a few months back to improve the living conditions of those who keep the city clean, the garbage cleaners and rag-pickers being prominent.

Commenting on the initiative Sanjana says, “Rag-pickers are the most neglected community in our country, nobody acknowledges them. I want to bring a positive change in their lives. They too are human beings like us but are unfortunately ignored by us. They deserve much better. Providing health, safety, hygiene and education assistance is to them is a small step in this direction. I am trying whatever little I can do to improve their lives and I would request others to help me do this.”

Earlier, at the onset of the monsoon season, Sanjana’s Clean Up Foundation had donated raincoats and gumboots to over 200 rag-pickers which ensured their safety from rain and hazardous materials. Sanjana intends to widen the area of operations for her activities and wants to carry out many more such activities.

Clean Up has already donated numerous water purifiers to different ward offices of BMC, which have helped hundreds of garbage cleaners get access to clean drinking water.

Statistics about rag-pickers:Littered roads and ineffective solid waste management are probably two of the worst externalities of economic advancement, especially in developing nations like India. Imagine getting up early in the morning each day to go to work; work that involves cleaning the garbage from gutters, sewers, drains, and streets of the city. The downsides of the job: low income, health hazards, short life expectancy and lack of dignity. Add to that widespread substance addiction. Yet, there are people who do this job relentlessly, each day. A broad estimate would put the number of rag pickers in India anywhere between 15 to 40 lakhs. Mumbai itself is estimated to have more than 3 lakh rag pickers.

As per the data from a sample study by MCGM, 40% of these rag pickers have an average per capita income of less than Rs.3500 and approximate 70% are illiterate. Their health is a major concern. 94% of the rag pickers in this survey were addicted to alcohol, tobacco or drugs and 43% of these were minors. The study found out that 63% of the surveyed population are exposed to diseases like TB, Dengue, Malaria, etc.

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