Voices & Faces

Hausa Uttam Sasane

Her 4 sisters and parents have been with KKPKP since its inception. The 5 sisters, all married and with their own families, by the time we knew them, had put up a moving street play for one of our annual dos- the Jagran Gondhal.

We had tried to infuse some ‘cultural element/ambience’ within the KKPKP. Around 30 groups of wastepickers from different pockets of Pune put up plays, sang songs, danced and had the audience –(other kkpkp wastepickers, some well wishers and all of us), enthralled, giggling hysterically, laughing and crying at the same time. Jagran translates as staying up late and Gondhal as confusion. The programme was named after the religious (?), customary night long celebrations of the wastepicker communities (castes).

The Dolas family play depicted how their parents, due to lack of opportunities had mentored the girls into the only occupation that they were familiar with and had access to- wastepicking. After acting out the trials and tribulations that this work entails, they ended on a tragic note where the father killed himself when he was too old to earn. Far, far more tragic was Lala Dolas, dying of burns after an accident (suicide?) months after the programme, and the eerie sense of déjà vu we were all left with.

Even more tragic was Kala bai, Hausa’s mother’s death. In October of 2002, Kalabai fell into a garbage container while wastepicking and injured her hand. She went to a private hospital, Inlax which diagnosed it as a fracture, recommeding an operation that would cost approximately Rs. 1500/-. Her daughters and son took a long time deciding the next steps and finally took her to the military hospital and Sassoon, where no one was willing to touch her. She was diagnosed as diabetic and the symptoms of gangrene setting in were obvious by the time we reached her. Shabana did everything possible, fought with the overloaded but apathetic Sassoon doctors and staff, arranged for blood, donated blood, pushed for the amputation of the hand to happen…and it did, but she died of a massive heart attack an hour after the operation.

Hausa steadfastly stuck with the KKPKP through these sad moments-never once blaming the organization. A week after Kalabai passed away, NDTV had contacted us to shoot a small news clip about the PMC Medical Insurance cover. Could we give them a good case about an accident or death that could have been avoided if the insurance cover were available. We shared the recent tragedy and asked Hausa and her sisters if they would speak about it. That was when she put her foot down.

“We have faced enough accusations from neighbors and relatives for our negligence. We don’t want to blame anyone for Aai’s death. We understand that with so many members, it isn’t always possible to do everything for everyone. We were there when Shabana fought with the authorities at Sassoon hospital and got them to operate her immediately.

And we know we too are to blame because we didn’t treat the accident with the attention it deserved.

But please don’t ask me to go through an interview with people who I don’t know at all. And have it telecast to other strangers. I don’t want to relive the trauma and the guilt I have already gone through”

But there have been other moments too. Like, the morning when she left for her door step collection work, and found a cloth bag ‘that looked and felt different’ in the waste. Of course it did! Not so many cloth bags carry gold ornaments worth one lakh rupees. After quickly deliberating the usual uncertainties; ‘should I just keep it’-‘after all it was thrown as waste’-‘I can buy a new house’ –‘it will change my life and my childrens’-‘ what if I am caught’- ‘will they believe me if I say I found it in the waste’-‘will they think I stole it’…… she did what she knew she had to – called up the SWACH activist and went with her to Sakaal newspapers, and asked them to make an insert in the newspaper and offered to return the money to the owner.

The owner identified himself, claimed the bag and paid her a small token for her honesty.

Hausa, of course, continues to live in the same house, (the token money barely covered her transport costs). But, she made it to the headlines more than once for her honesty, and was felicitated by the Marathwada Mitra Mandal, Sakal Social Foundation and other community based organizations.