frontline warriors

Combating pandemic from close quarters

Sanitisers are for big people, not for workers, says garbage collector

Combating pandemic from close quarters

A door-to-door garbage collector wears a mask in Chandigarh on Wednesday. Photo: Pradeep Tewari

Amarjot Kaur

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, April 8

Door-to-door garbage collectors can be seen digging their bare hands into bags loaded with trash and scrounging for resalable goods at a garbage collection point near SD College, Sector-32.

At noon, Surinder Kagda, president of Chandigarh’s Door-to-Door Garbage Collectors’ Union, comes with sky-blue coloured single-sheet masks with elastic bands attached to their corners. In the other hand, he holds pink gloves made of polythene-like material—the ones used for dying hair. “This is what the Municipal Corporation has spared for us. This is how we will guard ourselves against Covid-19. There are more than 4,000 garbage collectors in the city. We still don’t have a sanitiser; the officials at Health Department ask us why do we need sanitisers? ‘Woh toh bade logo ko chahiye hotay hai (only influential ones need them) as they receive many visitors’. We are not humans for them,” Kagda says.

“I have knocked numerous times at the authorities’ door. No one cares. And here we are, not backing down, picking up the waste, every day,” he adds.

For now, some garbage collectors have bought their own gloves. “Our work is such—the gloves wear off and cannot be used the second time around; this I am talking about surgical gloves. So, we buy them. A folded piece of cloth around the mouth and nose is far more protective than this paper-cloth mask!” Kagda shares.

He’s also sceptical of the government giving them polythene gloves, especially when polythene is banned. He lets both suspicion and anger wane. It’s the community’s health that grips his concern.

“We have asked workers to keep off houses with green boards—the quarantined ones. But, we don’t know who is next. Someone whose house we go to could be tested positive; if not now, 10 days later,” he says.

“Most collectors are slum-dwellers and every pandemic has a ripple effect, you can imagine the stakes here,” he explains.

On an average, a garbage collector barely makes about Rs 10,000 a month. Yet, they take your waste. Their only ask: surgical gloves, sanitisers and masks.

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