Published: 07th April 2020
Hasiru Dala is helping 2.5k families of ragpickers across South India amidst the lockdown
They work in Bengaluru, Tumakuru, Mysuru and many other cities in Karnataka. They recently started working in Coimbatore and Tiruchirappalli in Tamil Nadu and Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh
Looking at how demonetisation and GST introduction had affected the waste pickers in the past, this time, when Nalini Shekar heard about the Coronavirus outbreak, she sprang into action quickly. "Last time, we noticed that children of waste pickers became malnourished and to counter it, we taught them the cultivation of oyster mushroom, a cheap source of protein," she shares. Having co-founded Hasiru Dala (Green Force) and dedicating decades of her life to the cause of marginalised waste pickers, she decided not to wait till the situation worsens. Nalini set out to distribute care kits - consisting of rice, lentils and other basic necessities - to about 250 families. But alas, this happened on March 24, the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the nation-wide 21-day lockdown. "After the distribution, I heard of the lockdown and returned feeling ashamed. What we had distributed would hardly last them 21 days," says the 56-year-old. After all, she explains, these 'silent environmentalists' are daily wagers and with no midday meals and schools being closed, their families would struggle to get through the lockdown.
Packing | (Pic: Hasiru Dala)
But she did not lose hope. Hasiru Dala immediately launched a campaign asking for donations for more than 2,500 families of waste pickers who neither have ration cards, public housing or a source of income in these testing times. They were successful in this phase and have their eyes on the next where they will distribute care packages for children and pregnant women. "People have supported us generously with their donations so, there is no reason we cannot support waste pickers," says Nalini, who received the prestigious Kempegowda Award in 2014. Since no one can estimate how long the lockdown will really last, they plan on keeping up their phase-wise distribution to help as many families as they can.
Nalini shares that most waste pickers are already aware about social distancing and staying at home
In Karnataka's Chikkaballapur, the volunteers of Hasiru Dala are already demonstrating proper hand washing and though there is no dearth of information out there, they are working on information specific to sanitation workers and waste pickers and are even translating information to Kannada so that it is easier for them to read. They are even educating the public to dispose of contaminated masks safely and asking waste pickers to be careful when handling them. For now, they hope to start a mohalla clinic-like model where small clinics can be established in different slum areas. "We are in touch with leaders and call in multiple times a day to check if anyone has developed symptoms," she says.
Nalini Shekar | (Pic: Hasiru Dala)
Nalini hopes that at least those waste pickers who have bank accounts receive money and she also wishes that midday meals could somehow continue. "Construction and migrant workers, domestic helpers, those who help lay roads and build metros - all of them are an important part of our economy. It is time to show our support for them and see if we can really be open-hearted and broad-minded," concludes Nalini.
What their care kits contain:
- 25 kg rice
- 5 kg lentils
- 2 litres of cooking oil
- Chili powder
- 500 g groundnut
- 500 g jaggery
For more on them, check out hasirudala.in