Voices & Faces

Rahi Ingale

Rahi Sugriv Ingle has an air of quiet dignity. Moderate voice and reasoned arguments are her hallmark. They hide steely determination. Her son was then (2002) was studying in municipal school in the area where she used to ragpick. One day his teacher asked the children whose parents worked in unclean occupations to identify themselves. Her son was among those who stuck up his hand. When they did, she told them they would get a scholarship under some government scheme. The son came home with an application form saying the teacher had asked him to submit it. Rahi is a conscientious parent who believes that her child should get a good education. She had someone fill the form. She put together all the documents required and handed it to her son to submit to his teacher. He did the next day.

The following day she was at the municipal container near the school rummaging through it as usual. She was diligently taking out plastic and paper and metal scraps and dropping them into her sack alongside the bin. The school cleaner happened along with buckets of waste paper. She chatted with him desultorily for a bit about this and that as was her habit. She then started going through what he had brought to dump into the garbage container. Her keen eye spotted a familiar looking document that had been crushed. She pulled it out and straightened it out with trembling fingers. She started seething. It was the completed application for that her son had submitted the day before.

She marched off to the teacher to ask for an explanation. The teacher nonchalantly told her that she had made a mistake. The scheme was only for those in unclean occupations. Rahi was aghast. “Are you trying to tell me that the work I do is clean?” she asked the teacher in even tones. The teacher was unconcerned. She said the form referred to scavengers, tanners etc but the word ragpickers was not in it. The teacher did not budge.

Rahi brought the form to the union office and related the whole story. What followed were a series of representations to officials at various levels. A recommendatory letter issued by the Municipal Commissioner was attached to almost 800 applications of children of waste pickers. Till 2006 almost a 1000 children benefitted each year from the scheme after which the government raised the same objections as those of the teacher.

Rahi is now battling the Maharashtra government with the same argument --------- are you trying to tell us that children of ragpickers do not qualify because ragpicking is clean?