This is to acknowledge the life and daily struggles of Pourakarmikas, the ones we see every morning, the ones keeping our streets clean, they fight to exist every day.
Pourakarmikas are the waste workers of Bengaluru, working under the BBMP. On paper, they seem to have the rights, and benefits of working in a formal sector, having a proper occupation that preserves their self-respect and dignity but even at today's date it is nothing more than delusion.
Their profession is risky due to the types of waste that they handle which leads to numerous health issues. We as citizens are rarely careful of the way our household waste is disposed of, the fact that the waste after leaving our residences is being collected and cleaned by someone else never crosses our minds! You walk down the road and you see them working tirelessly in the heat, you think maybe for a second, pity them but move on. Their lives have not improved even though their jobs are no longer contractual.
LBTC works with Pourakarmikas mostly taking upskilling sessions for them and we have come across them sharing with us how their wages are not given on time, how they are disrespected by citizens, and how they are uncomfortable with their work environment with no proper safety gear or washroom facilities.
They are sufferers of constant dehydration because they fear drinking water due to the lack of washroom facilities. At times when it becomes a need of the hour, they are forced to urinate in public spaces, say behind cars or roadsides which is unhygienic and embarrassing for them. There are public toilets but there aren't those facilities everywhere which is why this issue is persistent. Being women they have to face a double burden of embarrassment and also sexual harassment or eve - teasing in such scenarios. Their job leaves them vulnerable to a lot of health risks but such unhygienic conditions increase their susceptibility. During our conversations with the PKs, they told us that they are taken for health checkups like BP, Diabetes, etc at frequent intervals and are given necessary meds, this was good to hear! They have at least some access to such health benefits.
In 2022 the Solid Waste Management Department announced the building of Suvidha cabins over the city. It is an interesting concept adopted by the Government which can be applied to our future endeavors. There are toilets with changing room facilities for the Pourakarimikas. These cabins are built out of shipping containers and are hence easy to carry around as and when necessary. We look forward to building a safe and healthy space for our PKs so that they can carry out their responsibilities easily.
In-spite of the Government planning on Suvidha cabins, it is not available throughout Bengaluru as of now therefore the problem of washroom facilities still persist. To solve it we look forward to making mobile toilets accessible for our PKs in the next phase of our project in collaboration with BOSCH.
Being in a workspace where they are looked down upon has ripped off their agency and it makes them feel unimportant whereas looking at the larger view their work is one of the most essential. During our workshops, our main goal is to assist them in making them feel good about themselves, and their work, something that has been looked down upon for centuries, very consistently. Something to emphasize is to change the perception of waste on an individual level to help inculcate the idea in them as well because in all our sessions something that we have observed is that they look up to us for a better way of life!
The government promises to provide for the safety of the Pourakarmikas but that is something lacking, they mostly use their bare hands for waste collection and it is especially risky when not everyone separates the hazardous waste. Even if they have access to protection gears at times they are hesitant to use it because it makes them feel uncomfortable. This is something that we want to understand from their perspective so that we can bring about a behavioral change for their benefit.
Study says that Porakarmikas or waste workers in general are vulnerable to diseases be they mental or physical and therefore it is important to maintain caution and identify how their lives can improve. Being part of a democracy isn't enough because they rarely know their rights, effective ways to perform their labor, etc so we as a group of aware individuals are making this effort to spread our knowledge and use our privilege for these heroes!
As readers of this blog I would request you all one thing, next time you see a Pourakarmika on the streets please do not forget to smile at them or strike up a conversation- just remember what they face every day but are still at it. Your little gesture could mean the world to them!