Voices & Faces

Chitra Kshirsagar

Not every member of KKPKP has a happy relationship with the union. In fact Chitra Kshirsagar and her entire `wasti` walked out of the union some years ago. But then Chitra has never been one to hesitate to do what she though right at the moment. She is the first to admit that there was a time before she joined the union when she used to supplement her income as a waste-picker with petty thefts of unattended construction materials and electric cables. But all that stopped when she joined the union.

The way in which she talks about what the union gave her is something rather different again. "Everyone will tell you how they make more money now that they are union members, that their scrap fetches more, that they get benefits like insurance and all that. But I don’t care so much for all that. For me the difference is that now people don’t treat ME like garbage! I show my photo pass, and even the policeman gives me respect." And she chuckles at the memory.

It was in fact a day that all the waste pickers remember with a chuckle. The unfortunate policeman picked on Chitra to bully one day. Waving his baton, he asked her to put her sack down and empty it out. Chitra did, confident that he would not find any stolen goods in it (those days were past!) And when the man had rudely pushed the garbage around with a stick, and started to walk away disappointed, Chitra flashed her union card, raised her voice and made the man pick up the garbage and put it all back into her sack!

Then what made Chitra walk out of the union some years ago? It was a clash with the union and its office bearers about getting her under-age step-daughter married. When the union took police help to stop the marriage, all Chitra`s friends and relatives stood together and chose to leave the union. But that is in the past, and Chitra is back with a bang.

Recently, Chitra and some of her colleagues went to Mumbai to receive an award of Rs. 3 lakhs that the union had been given. Her neighbours snidely asked her how much she would get out of it. And with great patience and pride, Chitra explained that the money would be used for the good of all the members, and that if they were to actually share the cash, each one would only get fifty rupees!