Early 2015, we met an old man in our neighborhood.We saw him every morning, entering the obscene garbage dumps at every corner, sifting through last nights’ waste.As we got to know him, he let us into his world, of the sights and smells that lurk deep inside garbage dumps, of sounds that lie waiting in potholes.
Every day, about 29,000 contract Powrakarmikas face injustice and abuse at the hands of contractors, the government, and society.Inspite of manual scavenging being illegal, the practice continues to persist. Women have to put up with verbal, physical, and sexual harassment from their contractors and have no recourse to any kinds of redressal.
They are systematically denied payments, and those that do receive money usually only get around Rs. 3000/month, a mere fraction of the Rs. 14,400/- that they are legally entitled to – a sum that itself was won after many years of struggle.
Our experience with protests for minimum wage and dignity of labor, as well as our friendships with workers in our neighborhood served as a catalyst for creating art works that speak to the daily experience of filth and abuse in a rapidly expanding city. We have created visual material (pamphlets, banners, posters) that has been used in various city-based protests by workers unions and civil society groups. Through the creation of this material we seek to challenge dominant narratives around the worker as reduced to just economics, or merely a victim, and to assert their resilience and agency within the violence of their daily lives.