Most of Bengaluru Thinks Waste Pickers are ‘Dirty’, Study Reveals

Study finds that 55 percent of Bengalureans find their waste pickers to be dirty, scary.

3 min read

A study aimed at unpacking perceptions about informal waste pickers in Bengaluru found that 55 percent of Bengaluru’s citizens think their waste pickers are ‘dirty’.

The study was conducted to identify factors that deter interaction between waste pickers and society. The premise of the study assumes that there is lack of social empathy towards the waste pickers. Their work is also under-recognised, the study observes.

‘Scary’ and ‘dirty’ were among the words associated with the waste pickers, the survey which covered 406 responders, part from in-depth interviews with many others.

“Have you seen Slumdog Millionnaire? They look just like that!”, one of the responders reportedly commented.


Study Exposes Bias

Fifty six percent of those interviewed believe that waste pickers should not be allowed into buildings and societies. This perception has increased amid pandemic fears, the study revealed.

Forty two percent of Bengaluru’s citizens believe waste pickers are alcoholics and gamblers, while 44 percent believe they are involved in ‘suspicious activities’ and theft.

“They look so scary that we don’t feel like going near them," a resident commented.

The survey was conducted as part of BBC Media Action’s #invaluables campaign that is aimed at shifting perceptions from waste pickers being seen as ‘dirty’, to being recognised as doing important, skilled work that contributes to society and the environment.

Their #invaluables initiative has reached 1.3 million people in Bengaluru.

‘I Enjoy Working’

Velu, a 40-year-old waste picker, is passionate about his job. “I really like doing social work and I love cleanliness, because I believe the first step to making and building a clean nation is to keep oneself and surroundings clean,” he said.

“Initially in the first few months this work was difficult, but slowly I picked up and enjoy working, because of the social aspect associated with it, and I am ready to work more,” he added.

However, several waste pickers are those from underprivileged and historically marginalised caste groups, especially dalits.

“Some people are indifferent to us and the others are outright rude,” Dhanalakshmi, a 35-year-old waste picker said. “Waste picking is tiresome as it is done during peak noon. There is no shade where we work.”

Study finds that 55 percent of Bengalureans find their waste pickers to be dirty, scary.

Dhanalakshmi and Velu

BBC Media Action

Lifting The Shroud of Invisibility

"Even during difficult times like the pandemic, waste pickers undertake waste collection from homes and localities, including potentially harmful waste like masks and other biomedical waste, doing so at great risk to themselves and their families. This is true even when there is no epidemic. However, a formative study in Bengaluru by BBC Media Action India, has shown that these informal waste pickers remain invisible despite their immense contribution to the city."
Priyanka Dutt, Country Director of BBC Media Action

The campaign focuses on 'invisibles' or waste pickers, as people of Bengaluru do not recognise the ‘humans behind waste’. The programme aims to lift the shroud of invisibility that cloaks informal waste pickers, by making their contribution to the city of Bengaluru more visible to the general public.

It is also envisaged that due to a positive shift in attitudes of citizens, the waste picker community will start recognising their work as important and skilled work.

The initiative is part of a larger Saamuhika Shakti programme which aims to improve the quality of life of informal waste pickers and their families in Bengaluru.

In addition to positively influencing attitudes of people of Bengaluru towards waste pickers, the Saamuhika Shakti initiative aims to provide opportunities for better and stable income, improved working conditions, access to affordable services, establish support system for survivors of violence, and create pathways for career transition for informal waste picker community.

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