Sometime in mid-1990’s, there was a man who worked as a Scientist for a CSIR laboratory in a small city of Dehradun. He had limited resources but immense will and courage to make a difference to the society. He was deeply moved by the rag-pickers who would keep hunting for clean waste in the piles waste dumps. It was unhealthy and utterly filthy.
For months together, the sight of these rag-pickers troubled him. Somehow he had to help them get clean waste so that these people don’t have to hunt for recyclable waste and carry them to the factories to earn their living. They deserve a respectable life, they deserve a healthy life. This thought made home in his mind.
In 1990’s, there was no concept of waste segregation existing in our country. This man lived in Government quarters with his family in a Government colony. And he came up with the thought of waste segregation – it was just a thought to start with. He wrote articles on why we should segregate waste at source and how it can help the society as a whole. He wrote poems on the same. For advertising his thought, he even dressed his younger daughter as a rag-picker during the fancy dress competition in colony fete (she got the first prize for acting a rag-picker, reciting her father’s poem and conveying a social message).
He had already put his thoughts on paper which had become quite famous. Now he wanted to put his words on action. A couple of his colleagues supported him and he went to each household in the colony and educated them on waste segregation. The idea was simple, they had to keep biodegradable (food) waste in a separate bin that could go to a compose pit and they had to keep non-biodegradable (plastic, glass, etc) in big plastic bag provided to them. Every week he would arrange for a few rag-pickers to come in colony and pick up the non-biodegradable waste from all the households. It was win-win for all. Rag-pickers got clean waste and residents of the colony could now become 0 waste producing community.
He called it “Rag-picker” scheme. It was a huge hit not only in the colony but in the entire city. He got media attention and attention from educational institutions. In spite of all this, he stayed grounded. His team of rag-pickers was not huge but with time he saw a tremendous transformation in them. They were now in better clothes, had watch on their wrists and they were in a position to buy small houses for themselves. He did everything possible to keep the scheme going till he was living in the colony.
Union Ministry of Environment in India released Solid Waste Management rules in 2016 which called for Waste segregation at source as a mandatory requirement. But a common man made this mandatory under “Rag-picker Scheme” at least 20 years earlier in IIP colony, Dehradun.
To do an act of this kind is courage. It takes patience, drive, will and most importantly it needs courage to stand up for an ignored section of society and do something for them.
This man is my Father. And this one act, inspired me to the core. I understood at a young age that without making a difference to your society, your life is practically worthless. Courage is not always about swords and fights, it is almost always about using a Pen to put your thoughts in words and then to use those words to create an action that makes a real difference.