Hasiru Dala members
In 2015 Hasiru Dala Innovations Pvt. Ltd, an offshoot of the NGO, was founded under the leadership of Shekar’s husband, Shekar Prabhakar, as a “purpose-driven, non-loss-making” company. “The waste collectors employed by the company serve 450 bulky waste producers, including all in Electronic City (the main IT hub) across Bengaluru,” said Prabhakar, co-founder and CEO of the company.
Despite civic activism in the area of waste management and the polluter pays principle (with waste producers paying for disposal), there is still a “lost sight of” attitude among city dwellers, adds Prabhakar. There is not enough concern for the people who keep cities clean. Most of the garbage collectors in Bengaluru, a focus area of Hasiru Dala, are informally employed in the neighborhoods they have cleaned, with no benefits or government subsidies. For migrant workers – people from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Assam, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh, who end up working as garbage collectors in Bengaluru – the challenges are more difficult. The language barrier aside, they are out of the question for basic ration packages without aadhaar cards, which many don’t have.
“Most of them earn and eat every day – they don’t have access to a public distribution system,” says Shekar. As the pandemic weighed on their income, finding food sources became a central concern. “Women in the community began to lose a lot of weight because they fed their families all the food they could get,” says Shekar.
With primary health centers being converted into Covid testing units, the community has been reluctant to visit them to treat non-Covid diseases. Instead, they relied on quacks and local pharmacies. With the second wave of infections, the fear of being tested – and of getting a positive result – also increased. “We organized and ran a community care center with the help of St. Joseph’s College in Bengaluru,” says Shekar. There a large hall was converted into a Covid-19 care ward, with the room being divided up for men and women. An entire family could stay together if they tested positive. While Hasiru Dala ran this clinic through crowdfunding with generous help from citizens, she took it upon herself to raise awareness about the disease and combat reluctance to test-related.
Around 39,000 households in the city currently separate waste at the source; All cities in Karnataka should collect wet and dry garbage separately.
“We’re guiding more than 150 people through a leadership training program through digital meetings,” says Shekar. There weren’t enough smartphones to walk around, but three or four people got together and connected through one device. Last year, trash collectors attending college also alerted the children to basic health monitoring protocols – reading oximeters, tracking temperatures, keeping tabs on diabetics, providing palliative care, and so on. A mobile library was set up for the children whose schools were suspended; Limited access to smart tech has been circumvented through more intelligent thinking. “Children whose families had basic feature phones were able to participate in storytelling sessions using a voice call instead of a video call,” says Shekar.
Until the virulence of the second wave was under control, Shekar and her colleagues also regularly sent recorded WhatsApp voice and video messages and urged the community to report if someone felt sick. Committees have been formed to identify families in dire need of economic intervention – scholarships and dormitories for young children, emergency aid for hospital bills, widow’s pensions, trusts for orphans who turn 18 are currently being organized by Hasiru Dala through fundraising. “We have laid the foundation for an ecosystem in which waste collectors can live with dignity,” says Shekar. “But we still have to achieve a lot more.”
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