Voices & Faces

Manisha Barode

At first glance Manisha Borade look like any one of the urban unorganized workers toiling away in the heat, grime and dust to earn a few rupees. But take a closer look and beneath the stoic appearance is a woman whose struggle for survival has been marred with poverty and disease, but who has emerged a true winner-strong, courageous and full of hope!

Manisha now 30 years old and mother to three daughters lives in the Gandhinagar slums in Pimpri, Pune. She was married at the age of 18 to a daily wage earner from Mumbai. Two years into the marriage, and two children later her husband began falling ill. He tired easily and hence could not keep jobs. At the brink of starvation Manisha was forced to move with her two little girls to her mothers village. Here she spent two years- helping her mother in the fields and raising her children single handedly. Eventually the villagers gossip about a single woman living apart from her husband, again forced her to move—but this time to Pune where her husband had now settled. They lived in a tin shed and both were again without work. Manisha’s husband would beat her occasionally but she never really questioned it. “He would hit me sometimes, but that’s okay- with two children to look after and another one growing in my tummy these arent things you think about”. And so the third girl was born, to the irritation of her husband and in-laws. Their hope for a son had been shattered, yet again.

One day an NGO worker visited them in the slum. Seeing her husband’s failing health she advised them both to get tested for HIV. He refused. However once the NGO worker told them that they would be given free ration for a month if they got tested he relented. Manisha was confused. She didn’t know what they were being tested for. The test results turned out positive- thus began a new nightmare for this tough woman. Straddled with three children, a husband visibly suffering from the disease, news that she too was sero-positive and with no source of income she was devastated. When she confronted her husband about his sero-positive status he admitted to having known for many years about it. He however had not informed her in the hope of her bearing him a son! The betrayal, shock and unfairness of it all was dawning on Manisha. She decided that she had to take control of her life. She had to live, fight and surivive. She enrolled her children in the local municipal school. She began sorting waste, and selling the dry waste to a local bhangarwalla to earn around Rs 40 a day. But it was tough because watsepickers in that area already had clearly delineated ‘zones’ .They would pick fights with her if she strayed into their territory. She heard of Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat from a wastepicker who was already a member. She decided to visit their scrap shop under the Pimpri flyover to see if she could enroll in the sanghatna too. In this way she could sort scrap without being hassled by other members, and her earnings might increase.

She convinced her husband to take her to the scrap shop where she paid an annual membership fee and a week later was given the municipality endorsed I card which officially recognized her as a wastepicker. Soon after this she realized that the hostility and animosity she had earlier faced by wastepickers reduced, allowing her to collect waste from a larger area and thus her earnings increased to Rs 60- 70 per day. She was the primary earning member of her family, as her husbands health was deteriorating rapidly. He died a year later. The NGO which had encouraged them to get tested for HIV started providing monthly ration, clothes, shoes and books for her children. “They bought us new clothes..sarees for me and new dresses for my girls, plus ration and oil. I never ever imagined that we’d have all these things”. Manisha thus began a second lease on life. She sent her two older girls to a hostel, so that she could spend longer hours at work. Her younger daughter stayed back with her. All children tested sero-negative when tested.

Today Manisha earns Rs 60-70 per day. On days when she is too tired to work, she earns nothing. She is visibly saddened by the impact an HIV positive diagnosis has had on her relationships with other family members. Apart from her mother and brother, who continue to visit her and blamed her sero-positive condition on ‘fate’, her inlaws have completely disowned her. Her mother in law blames her for transmission, her brother in law refuses to even drink water at her house and her sister in law has taken to spreading news about her HIV positive status to others in the slum. Despite these odds, Manisha has remained stoic and resilient. She recently bought herself a room in the slum- her own house with her own earnings. She smiles with pride when asked about this achievement- “I took a loan of Rs 40,000-partly from the credit society of the sanghatna, and partly from a local self help group. I hope to pay this back in a few years time. This house is the only surety I can offer my children once im gone.” Recently Manisha suffered from a severe bout of TB, after which she was put on antiretroviral therapy. The tuberculosis has led to a reduction in her stamina and energy levels because of which her daily earnings have been affected. She is hoping the sanghatna can help connect her to one of the commercial complexes close to where she lives. In this way she could collect waste at the point of generation itself and forgo the need to traverse long distances by foot.

Manisha’s story, though common, is one of exemplary courage and determination. It serves as a good reminder of the triumph of the human spirit over all odds. And most importantly her story teaches us that every person –regardless of caste, occupation, colour or religion – has an inherent self worth and dignity, which must be protected at all co