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Rag Pickers of India

by K.L.Kamat

Written: October 22, 1999
First Online: September 05,2004
Page Last Updated: October 10,2006

Numerous Indian states are enforcing anti-begging laws and hence the traditional beggars have opted for rag-picking. 

Most of the rag-pickers are extremely poor, illiterate, and belong to rural immigrant families. Many commence their profession at the young age of five to eight years. Most of them never attend any school or have any formal education. Most of their families are in need of extra incomes from these young children (see: ). While they are collecting rags they are subjected to chemical poisons and infections. Because of malnutrition they suffer from retarded growth and anemia. The rag pickers are very susceptible  to diseases like tuberculosis and cancer due to their exposure to hazardous materials.

© K. L. Kamat
Children Rag-pickers
Rag-pickers Start Young

In most cases, there are middlemen who engage these children. They are required to collect, bottles, plastic, metal parts, glass pieces and alike. They also collect food-waste for their consumption. If found in access they share it with their friends and the elders. The middlemen pocket the major share of the sales and pays only paltry to the youngsters. As earning members of the family they do not heed much to the elders of the family's advice. They commence chewing and smoking tobacco. Soon they become addicted to alcohols and then they switch to hard liquors. They even do not refrain from taking the drugs. They have free sex with street walkers and hence become victims of AIDS. 

© K. L. Kamat
Ragpickers on the Streets of Bangalore
Rag-picking in Urban India

The State and the Central Government collect lots of taxes on the pretext of rehabilitating the rag-pickers. Unfortunately that amount is squandered away in most unimaginative ways. The government and non-government agencies are going for "Rag-pickers Project" in a big way. They rent out a huge building, furnish it with expensive furniture; appoint lots of office-bears and conduct classes during fixed timings. To these rag-pickers they aim to teach state, national and international languages together with mathematics! But in reality they learn only abusive languages. Many times they fight very fierce verbal and physical abuse by their colleagues. 

Some of of the rag-pickers get to be  treated like stars on Christmas and New Year's days by YMCA and YWCA, who offer them new clothes and sweets before television cameras.

See Also:

  • Begging Profession in India -- Kamat on why people beg in India, their modus operandi, their social and love life. He wonders whether feeding the beggars keeps the profession alive
  • People of India -- Wide ranging topics and pictures depicting the common and uncommon communities of India; their professions, life-styles, and values.


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