BBC Media Action Thursday launched ‘Invaluables’ — a communication initiative designed to shift perceptions about waste picking and informal waste pickers in the city of Bengaluru.

The programme aims to lift the shroud of invisibility that cloaks informal waste pickers, by making their contribution to the city of Bengaluru more visible to the general public. The programme is part of the H&M Foundation-funded Saamuhika Shakti Collective Impact initiative, intended to improve the lives of informal waste pickers in Bengaluru.

BBC Media Action’s formative research showed that the people of Bengaluru do not recognise the humans behind the process of informal waste management, despite caring deeply about waste on the streets. While people are generally appreciative of formal waste collectors, Bengaluru’s ‘Pourakarmikas’, the research showed a high level of stigma against informal waste pickers, who are virtually invisible to the people of Bengaluru.

Study showed that people had strong negative perceptions towards informal waste pickers because of their physical appearance limiting their interaction and acceptance in the society. Nearly 55 per cent of respondents said that informal waste pickers are dirty in appearance while 56 per cent believed that they shouldn’t be allowed in building complexes and societies. The study found that women waste pickers were particularly vulnerable, facing abuse by men in the neighbourhoods and violence at home.

Speaking about the ‘Invaluables’ initiative, Priyanka Dutt, Country Director, BBC Media Action, India, said, “For informal waste pickers to experience greater social acceptance, we believe that there is a need to change the way the people of Bengaluru think and feel about waste pickers. Through the ‘Invaluables’ initiative, we hope to help people travel a journey — from waste pickers being seen as ‘dirty’, to being recognised as doing important, skilled work that contributes to society and the environment.”

Eminent residents of Bengaluru author Anuja Chauhan, actor Radhika Narayan, cricketer Robin Uthappa, comic and actor Shradha Jain, and actor Swetha Changappa have joined the intensive two-month initiative.

Central to this initiative is a social experiment that connects people to an ‘Invaluables’ Facebook community. Actress Radhika Narayan moderated the social experiment with a diverse set of Bengaluru residents, probing their notion of friends and the value of friendships. The experiment reveals the ‘Invaluable’ friends of the people of Bengaluru: friends who always stood by them, but that they never knew they had. Link to the film: https://youtu.be/k3Q-KBnk87s

On the development of the social experiment, Radharani Mitra, Global Creative Advisor, BBC Media Action added, “Too long waste pickers and the role they play in our lives have been invisible. This invisibility has resulted in silence — no questions, no conversation – on social media and elsewhere. We conducted a social experiment to spark a realisation and to ignite a conversation — we wanted people to discover that waste pickers do what friends do for us, without us being aware at all! We hope this experiment and the Invaluables group will help shift how waste pickers are seen: from being invisible, to being invaluable.”

Speaking on the campaign, Radhika Narayan, Kannada film actor, said, “During the pandemic, it became even more evident that waste pickers protect our homes and localities by removing waste that could be potentially harmful to us. They do it at great risk even now. Before conducting this social experiment, even I wouldn’t have realised the kind of difference they are making to our lives.

Anuja Chauhan, eminent author and a resident of Bengaluru who has also joined Invaluables Facebook community said, “Waste pickers serve an important societal function by picking up, cleaning, sorting and segregating recyclable waste and selling it further up the value chain. But they lack social acceptance and dignity. Society registers only the dehumanising filth and squalor in which they eke out sustenance. Creating societal recognition of their work as having economic and environmental value is important. We need to truly see them as invaluable to society and to the community at large and accord them due respect.”

The ‘Invaluables’ Facebook community seeks to build connections between Bengaluru and its waste pickers, by revealing more about their lives, stories, work and talents.

“The Saamuhika Shakti project, through collaboration with multiple stakeholders, aims to address the many challenges faced by the waste pickers in a holistic and sustainable manner. One of the challenges is the indignities they suffer due to a lack of knowledge of and respect for the invaluable role they play in the waste management eco-system. We, along with our partner BBC Media Action, invite the residents of Bengaluru to be a part of the Invaluables programme and become change agents for an equitable Bengaluru for all its citizens,” said Lakshmi Pattabi Raman, Executive Director, Saamuhika Shakti, The/Nudge Foundation.

Maria Bystedt, Strategy Lead, H&M Foundation added, “An important pillar of our work is the belief that communication in itself can be a change maker and spark action. It can contribute to changes in beliefs, attitudes and behaviours, and even policies and regulations. We are proud to partner with BBC Media Action and support the ‘Invaluables’ campaign which we believe is an important piece of the puzzle to improve the lives of waste pickers. For a sound and robust waste management system to exist, there needs to be recognition of those that carry that system on their shoulders.”

India’s information technology hub and the capital of southern Indian state of Karnataka, Bengaluru is home to over 22,500 waste pickers. According to Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, Bengaluru generates nearly 5,757 metric tonnes of solid waste per day. According to Hasiru Dala, waste pickers in Bengaluru save municipal authorities up to Rs 840 million by collecting and transporting recyclables from waste. Despite being a critical part of the city’s solid waste management ecosystem, the waste pickers and their families suffer a lot of hardships and challenges.

BBC Media Action’s intervention is part of the larger Saamuhika Shakti initiative, which aims to improve the quality of the lives of informal waste pickers. The vision of this initiative is ‘to enable the waste pickers’ community to have greater agency to lead secure and dignified lives.

–IANS

san/dpb