Mumbai waste picker Sushila Sable guns for global role | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Mumbai waste picker Sushila Sable guns for global role

May 01, 2024 06:43 PM IST

Starting as a waste picker at the age of 10, Sushila Sable is contesting for the position of vice president of the International Alliance of Waste Pickers (IAWP), whose first congress commences on May 1

Mumbai: On April 29, 58-year-old Sushila Sable embarked on a 40-hour long journey from Mumbai to Buenos Aires, accompanied by Marathi translator Ashwini Jog. Starting as a waste picker at the age of 10, Sable was headed to contest for the position of vice president of the International Alliance of Waste Pickers (IAWP), whose first congress commences on May 1.

Mumbai waste picker Sushila Sable guns for global role
Mumbai waste picker Sushila Sable guns for global role

“It all started with forming small self-help groups,” reminisced Sable, who led a group of 10 women waste pickers to form a self-help group (SHG) in 1998 with the help of women’s rights organisation Stree Mukti Sanghatana (SMS). In no time, she rose through the ranks to become the president of Parisar Bhagini Vikas Sangha (PBVS), a trust comprised of many SHGs with nearly 3,000 waste pickers as members. She also became a member of the Alliance of Indian Waste Pickers (AIWP). “Today, I am one of the most vocal voices of waste pickers in India as well as on the global stage,” said Sable.

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In 2008, when the IAWP was in the formative stages, resembling a lose patchwork of waste picker unions from around the world, SMS president and well-known feminist activist Jyoti Mhapsekar attended a meeting in Bogota, Columbia, as a representative of PBVS.

“The sense of solidarity among waste picker organisations that I witnessed there was really significant,” recalled Mhapsekar. The gathering helped her understand various issues faced by waste pickers in other countries and gain a sense of togetherness, she said, hoping the same would happen for Sable now.

“She has a lot of leadership qualities, and is quiet and understanding, which is why we chose her to attend the inaugural congress of the international alliance and contest for the vice president’s post,” Mhapsekar told HT

The first IAWP congress will cement the formalisation of the international alliance, which encompasses 50 waste picker organisations representing nearly 4.6 lakh workers across 34 countries; 12 of the constituent organisations are Indian. The gathering will elect a president, a vice president and a treasurer from among the delegates, and the alliance is likely to be registered with the International Labour Organisation in due course.

“We will start our congress out on the streets, joining other workers and unions for the rally on International Workers’ Day,” said Lucía Fernández, interim general secretary, IAWP. “After electing office-bearers of the alliance, we will decide on 10 resolutions that we will be working towards,” she noted,

Among other things, the congress will deliberate on the Plastics Treaty, which aims at reducing plastic pollution. Waste pickers will inevitably lose out in this mix as plastics dominate in the recycling chain. “We are working to ensure a just transition for waste pickers, to make sure they’re involved in the life cycle of the materials that eventually replace plastic,” said Fernández.

Though India is one of the few countries with a solid waste management law, amended in 2016, that recognises the contribution of waste pickers and mandates their involvement with local bodies, many waste pickers do not have even the bare minimum support and security as workers’ organisations are too few and far between, said

Kabir Arora, Asia Pacific coordinator of IAWP and member of the AIWP.

“Expanding the number of waste pickers in Mumbai who receive support and security is the most important thing,” said Arora.

Sable hopes to draw attention to these aspects during the congress at Buenos Aires. She is adept at collective bargaining, aware of relevant policies at the local, national and international levels, and backed by workers’ organisations in the country, she said.

“I’ve brought a local approach of institution building to the global stage,” she told HT from Buenos Aires. “Rooted in Ambedkarite politics, and the Indian feminist tradition of Savitri Bai Phule, I firmly believe that organising is crucial for the emancipation of working castes and classes.”

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