Voices & Faces

suman mariba more

Suman More is a proud mother - her son L. More has completed his Bachelor in Arts, a diploma in journalism and is currently pursuing his Masters degree.

This did not come easily to Suman, a wastepicker in Pune city, India. Her parents had migrated to Pune from their village in search of work and began wastepicking. She started wastepicking with them when she was around 13 years old. Suman married Mr. More at the age of fourteen and had her 4th child when she turned 22. Their main source of income was waste picking. Suman’s husband also earned money by performing on traditional drums and conducting religious ceremonies. However income from these activities was sporadic and irregular.

When Suman started work she would pick up recyclable waste on the roadside, in local waste depositories or public waste bins provided by the Pune Municipal Corporation. She walked long distances and worked from dawn to dusk. Her children helped to sort the waste at home as sorted scrap fetched a better price.

In 1992-93 organizers of KKPKP trade union of wastepickers came to her community to talk about the need to organize waste workers. They explained that the benefits of organizing included getting access to waste at source, fewer hours of work for the same amount of money, cleaner working conditions, insurance etc. Many of her neighbours discouraged her becoming a member saying that these benefits are utopian and that it was a new way for some people to make money!!! However, she decided to join KKPKP with a few other people in the community and has never regretted her decision.

Now her working conditions have improved. Suman explains: “I work only 4 hours for more money, since I collect the waste from door to door. The quality and condition of waste is much better”. Door to door collection has other benefits. She builds relationships with people and engages in casual conversation over a cup of tea. Coming from a lower caste and class of society she never thought this would happen in her lifetime. She is happy that she is able to have a proper lunch break and that they are provided with soap to wash their hands and legs before they sit to have lunch in a cool, clean place in the residential complex where she works. A higher income has also meant that she can afford proper medical care instead of self-medicating with the help of a pharmacist to avoid going to the doctor.

Suman no longer takes the waste home to sort. The municipal corporation has provided a sorting shed where several waste pickers gather to sort their waste while engaging in conversation and easy banter lightening up their day. Once she goes home, she has time now to watch some television to ease off the day’s hard work.

As a member of KKPKP Suman took an oath to educate her children, and enlisted the help of KKPKP to enroll her children in school. Both her first and last sons have received cash prizes from KKPKP for their achievements. Her daughter-in-law is a computer engineer from a Brahmin (upper caste) family for whom she wants to be a good mother-in-law. She married her daughter only after she turned eighteen and did not give dowry, she smiles proudly.