Seven days, 11 interviews.

First week in Delhi ends with 11 interviews complete, four scheduled and more being planned. Nine of the 11 interviews have been with waste pickers themselves, and two were with experts on waste

and waste management in Delhi. Below are a few quotes from the interviews. These are completely unscripted and unedited and may or may not be in the finished film.

Ravi Agarwal, Communications Engineer and founder of ToxicsLink, Interview:

“There’s this general association of poor with being unsanitary, with being unclean. So if you are poor you must be unclean. And there are all these things that work with creating a narrative for making a more clean and green city, as the slogan goes, but a less equitable city where livelihood is not considered as part of the environmental future here.”

“I think what is less understood in the West, because systems have been lost there, is that you cannot understand environment without bringing the human factor in. The environment is not sustainable for somebody from Mars. It has to be sustainable for the society. When you think of this society as being environmentally sustainable it has to have people’s involvement in that sustainability. The future of people involved, of societies involved, has to be sustainable. They have to have something to get out of that future, they must benefit from the future, it must go back to their lives, and that has always been the case in India. You look at poor communities, waste picker communities, and they have always found good in working with nature, or working with natural resources.”

“There is this dominance in how we think about futures which play a role in how we act with waste pickers, and I think we need to look back to look ahead, and if you look back at the waste picking community it shows you where to look for the future. It’s not that we have to let them be the way they are, but certainly they have some of the answers we need for the future.”

“It’s very practical steps that need to be done. Give them rights to waste, give them dignity of their lives, providing them with access to clean food, and better schooling and clean housing, this is all that they require, and one should not forget they are entrepreneurs. They do not need you and me, they are not asking anybody for money. They make their own money. And entrepreneurs can do almost anything, they’ll grow the businesses, they don’t need anybody’s help, so I think we need to provide the enabling conditions for them and then they don’t need us beyond that.”

“Global actors have many roles….I think we have to shape the terms of debate for the future and it cannot be done locally alone. It has to be made complicated globally. For ex. if the terms of debate are this works fine in this country, but in this country, this doesn’t work. We need to look at these things. Even that conversation is a shaping of the debate, rather than saying this is a solution to this problem. The problem of the waste is this. There is no A solution to the waste problem , there is no A solution to environmental sustainability. You have to have different sets of solutions which have different fits to different socioeconomic conditions. This recognition itself is very important to do and I think global actors can have a role in making the debate more complicated and more nuanced than it is now.”

Dunu Roy, Director of  Hazard Centre,  Interview: 

“This is how economists are thinking: there is this wealth that lies at the bottom that needs to be extracted in order to get at GDP. A revealing glimpse into this is that the companies that were given these contracts for solid waste management by the municipalities were basically supposed to take the waste as it accumulates and transfer it to the landfills, and their income would come from what they get paid per ton for waste delivered at the landfill. So initially their interest is to increase the tonnage of what they take to the landfill But they have discovered in the last one year or so that in fact what they take to the landfill has a lot of recyclable stuff. and therefore they’re denying the waste picker these recyclables and saying we are going to take that waste, so what happens is that recyclable get subtracted from that total amount, so they are getting paid less by municipalities. But what happens is that the small tonnage they take out as recyclables they’re getting about 10 times more income out of that recyclable. So in a sense they are taking the waste picker out of the scene itself not in terms of collecting and segregating the recycle, but in terms of the waste picker having control over the recycle and being able to sell it. So they’re saying you continue collecting, you continue segregating but WE will take over the sale. So that explains how the formal organization gobbles up a chunk of the profit and they leave it to the informal sector. This is the wealth at the bottom of the pyramid that these economists are talking about. And they talk about it so glibly, as if they’re doing the poor a good deed, they’re not, they’re basically extracting more and more surpluses out of them. That’s globalization. That’s the wealth at the bottom of the pyramid. ”  

“Recently, waste pickers took the waste they had collected and dumped it outside the house of the CEO of the municipality, and said you don’t want us to live so here’s your waste back. They’re right it’s not the waste of the waste picker. It’s the waste of the people who consume large amounts. To hold the waste picker responsible for dirt is an inverted argument. It’s the dirt of the rich that the waste picker is helping to recycle, get rid of, and one day the waste picker is going to come back and throw it right back at the rich and say you take care of your own bloody waste.”

“Until the average American realizes that they carry within them the seeds of the American wars, the revolution that they undertook to get free from the United Kingdom, the civil war that occurred in the US to say that negros are not slaves… they fought wars of liberty. They need to recover their tradition and say we CAN fight for social justice, across the world, not just in the US. It’s not just we can challenge the 9 percent in the US, they need to think they can challenge the 9 percent across the world.”

“The whole idea of development is skewed, it’s ridiculous. You say we rape the earth more and more and that’s development. How can you think like this? It’s illogical.”

You have to understand the world we live in and it’s not a question of we are destroying the earth, it’s actually we are destroying ourselves. The earth will survive long after we’ve gone. The earth is not going to get destroyed. We are destroying ourselves by doing this kind of rubbish.”

“I invite them all to come to India and see what they’re doing to the rest of the world.”

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2 thoughts on “Seven days, 11 interviews.

  1. The whole idea of development is skewed…you say we rape the earth more and more and that’s development. How can you think like this? It’s illogical.
    SO VERY RIGHT ON! I agree. Thank you Julia for capturing this person’s thought.

  2. What amazing coverage and quotes to have gotten in the first week! Julia, you’re doing an amazing job. This is shaping up to be a momentous piece of work. Can’t wait to see and read more!

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