Of Things We Don’t Know: Formal Notes from an Informal Sector!

Ragpickers at Zero Pushta, Delhi

A trip to the Ranthambore Wildlife Sanctuary got me thinking. I realized that the jungle supports livelihoods of the tribal people who have essentially been hunters and gatherers by profession. They do not own the forests or even part of it, they only access it and use it to meet their every day needs of survival.

They go in the forests to collect food, fodder ,fuel and small timber. Just the way it is, without altering the habitat or without disrupting the resource base. They visit different places, trees, wines, shrubs in different seasons to collect berries-nuts-fruits-flowers-leaves and other products like honey or tree bark and roots. All that requires an intimate knowledge of the forest.

These resources are not ‘free’ – as it needs efforts and knowledge to get them, without having a calendar or a planner to make notes. This is passed on to others over time and generations without text books or computer records. The appreciation of nature comes from the experience of nature.

This made me think about ragpickers in the city–who are–in an anthropological sense ‘gatherers’ and may well be using the same strategy to survive in the city. They are beyond the monetized economy and they survive,  they know where to find food or money, at what time, at what places, including religious places and hotels.

All this requires efforts? Yes. Hard work and bargaining with others? Yes. planning and decision making? Yes. Weighing pros and cons for a visit to a particular part for gathering goodies? Yes. What it does not require is exchange of money as we know it. Their every day lives do not involve a need to exchange cash in return for services or for food or for fuel or for more substantive needs of housing or clothing or entertainment or possessing things.

But they visit the garbage dumps for collecting material that they can recycle like plastic, metal, paper, cloth, etc. that has some monetary value. Collect left over food from houses or restaurants or religious palaces for eating. What is left behind is rotting garbage–‘waste’–that gets recycled in the natural order of things.

I am sure a more detailed inquiry into the life of scavengers living in cities will tell us about their efforts at planning, strategizing, exchange of information, goods, efforts, etc. It is an area we do not yet know … could it be possible that an entire knowledge base–a complex of decision makers and a group of people related to ‘Green City’ that may exist and we may not even be aware of their contribution, leave alone quantifying, measuring and acknowledging it?


Environmental anthropologist by training, been in the field for over 20 years, Gialome (pseudonym) is mainly concerned with the impacts of infrastructure and technology projects on local communities.

9 thoughts on “Of Things We Don’t Know: Formal Notes from an Informal Sector!

  1. Pingback: Oriental Apartments Leads the Way in Holistic Waste Management
  2. I am a filmmaker from Mumbai/London. I was in India shooting a film based on waste recycle and education for adults. I need photographs of children picking waste. Is there any way I could get some images. I right now in London and unable to make pictures in india. Please let me know.

  3. Pingback: India’s Slumdog Ragpickers | 1-800-Recycling
  4. I suspect the biggest issue is e-waste created by individual home computer users who operate from home. They will have no collection centres and no specific location to discard even if they want to. One simple thing that will work for these users in need is to have a designated ‘Kabadiwala’ who is allowed to collect the waste.

  5. Pingback: :: Delhi Greens :: » MoEF Invites Suggestions on Draft E-Waste Management Rules 2010

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