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A Clean Beginning

When –Being abused by husbands had become a part of life, Being beaten by drunken husbands a daily affair, Going hungry many a time inevitable, Sending children to school a distant dream and The fight for survival going tough…

It was a dawn of rising hope across the blue horizon, when these women picked up their weapons for survival – the sweeping brush and a dust pan. Dressed in uniforms, these are the very women who could not think of a life beyond the confines of their slums. Today, more than 400 women from the far off slums of Chennai are employed as garbage collection staff with Neel Metal Fanalca, which has taken up the contract for garbage collection with the Chennai Municipal Corporation.

Being employed even as garbage collectors is boon to them as they have turned bread earners of their families today. Occupational hazards, including stinking garbage, needles, sharp object and mosquito bites, do not deter them. “It doesn’t matter, we feel proud doing this job today.”

These wounds are much better than the mortal wounds suffered each day in the hands of drunken husbands, they say. Dogs don’t fear them anymore as they work beside. Their dedication brings to fore their transition from “non-living to living”.

To ensure health and hygiene, they have been provided with protection gears including, a pair of gloves, a cap, mask, shoes and a thick fabric-feel comfort pant and shirt.

Some look down upon them owing to the nature of their job and some others shower them with “gifts of old saris and food”. But with these women, it is “work more and talk less”, as they feel accepting such “gifts” given out of compassion would affect their dignity.

“It was a moment of pride when we turned harbingers and averted a major fire. Once we saw smoke in a house and alerted their security, who quickly got into action putting off a burning electric cable.” So much is the presence of mind of these women, who have had either no education or studied until Std X.

Working on the streets gives them an opportunity to be humane too. “At work, we also stretch a helping hand by accompanying children and seniors to cross the roads. And all we expect in return is a smile of appreciation.”

Stirring through garbage is not that challenging but it is horrifying when in that very pile of sharps and stinks they spot a baby. “Once we found an infant in a bag which we handed over to the police. It seems that like cleaning the streets we have to clean this society too,” say the women over a cup of tea during the half an hour break.

“With a handsome salary of 3000 per month, festival bonus, medical care from E.S.I.C., provident fund, what else can we expect with little or no education? We are honoured and satisfied as it provides us a respectable life.”

Starting early in the morning, they not only clean the streets but are able to clean their lives too. It is a small beginning as they glorify their job and work with dedication. Cleaning is after all just another job…

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