Swachh Beachside Story
It was barely two days after Women’s Day was celebrated with great enthusiasm and with hopes expressed for a better deal for oppressed women. Then TOI came out with a prominent Page 3 story that was anything but complementary about societal attitude to the oppressed classes.
A large part of the page was devoted to an ad on tailor made summer holidays starting from anything from for anything between Rs 40000 to Rs 1,25000/- after huge discounts. In the left lower corner of the newspaper was a small human interest story about 2 women toiling to clean 1 km stretch of Thiruvanmayur (read upmarket Besant Nagar) beach on the night of Women’s Day. The story included the photo of Alliamma and Kalaiarasi in action wearing their uniform.
These women work for a private firm and spend Saturday and Sunday nights cleaning up ice cream wrappers, food waste, loose papers and plastic, bottle pieces and cigarette butts. The list of wastes strewn all over the beach sand is indeed a statement on the attitudes of our society. Probably by the end of Women’s Day, the rubbish was even more after special treats given by well-to-do families to their women to celebrate the day.
The report in TOI then talks about the problems of the two women. Their work is very exacting. Their job is collection of waste discarded by the visitors to the beach. The next morning the beach would be clean as if by magic, thanks to their efforts. The poor ladies point out how their work is made even more strenuous due to lack of bins. The 2 bins on the entire stretch are grossly inadequate for the amount of garbage strewn around by the thousands that throng the beach at week-ends, eating, smoking and even drinking and either squatting on the sand or sitting on the 100 stone benches. The 2 women have to bend and gather loose waste scattered all over the place all night working from 7 PM to 4 AM. They think that shortage of bins makes their task more difficult.
For the past three years, these women have been paid Rs 6000 per month each. They have had no raise, no special allowances for inflation nor any cost of living allowances, forget about any health insurance or hardship allowances that bureaucrats enjoy. They are unprotected against infectious material that they gather and not even gloves to protect their hands!!
To cater to the revellers’ demand at weekends, over a dozen ice-cream carts and other vendors sell peanuts, sweet corn, bajji, pani puri and tea, all in paper or plastic plates and cups. Nothing wrong with that! However neither they nor their customers deem it their duty to deposit the waste in bins to make the task of collection easier. All waste is left behind on the sands near these eateries. The vendors do not have any bins to collect the waste nor do they deposit the trash generated in a corporation bin. Their customers, who must count among the disposable income section of the citizenry, act even more irresponsibly and just throw away the leftovers and the plastic waste without depositing them in a public bin. Even if they are in the vicinity of the public bins, they take no trouble to deposit the waste into the bin. They simply throw away the waste any which way all around the area.
Thus the vendors do not take care of the waste, the consumers do not deposit the waste in the bins, and the civic body does not provide sufficient number of bins. Such is the irresponsibility of the society. Yet the citizens fail to follow basic discipline and blame the Government for their own sins of omission and commission. The public officials of course collect a hefty bribe for contracting out services to private agencies. They cut corners by giving a raw deal to their workers. They are also part of the public who enjoy the sands of Finally the problem of everyday mess being cleaned up falls on the hips and shoulders of two lowly ill paid workers, that too women, toiling all night. These voiceless workers are totally helpless. They cannot even ask for more bins. If they fail to complete their jobs, no matter how difficult it may be, they will be fired and replaced. They are only contract workers and even their names may not be in the private company’s records.
Meanwhile, well paid and well fed PSU Bank officers and staff,government officials, doctors, lorry owners go on a strike for higher wages. Seventh pay commission too is working furiously to offer a bigger package and higher allowances to Government employees?
Unfortunately such unearned hikes will only produce a bigger output of waste!
There were no Women’s Day celebration for Alliamma and Kalaiarasi. Their photos do not feature in any of the articles written about them. They just remain faces in the crowd
Prof N Natarajan’s article published in The Shopping Express