Meet the Indian rag picker who became one of the esteemed speakers at the Geneva Conference

There is nothing big or small, if you have the right thought in your mind, the world can still find a reason to look up to you. 50-year-old rag picker, Suman More from Pune was one of the esteemed speakers at the 104th session of the International Labour Conference held from June 1 to 13 in Geneva. Just a few weeks back, 2,000 experts from all over the world patiently and admiringly listened to Suman, as she spoke about her work, difficulties, and how many rag-pickers like her,find it hard to gain acceptance and a voice in society.

“I thought it was just us rag-pickers who were not treated properly, but during the conference, I learnt about many other people – like hairstylists and weavers – who were also struggling to find their voice. There were more than 2,000 people from across the world and I was the only one in a sari. The most difficult issue was sitting in the air conditioned room, as I am not used to it. But I managed. Everyone appreciated me and the Indian culture, and the next day, they even tried on my saris,”

During the conference, Suman spoke about her work to an elite group of experts and leaders. Suman has been collecting and sorting waste from the past 37 years.

Suman, originally who comes from Kalamb village, Usmanabad district, used to work with her parents in farms for daily wages. After a drought hit the village, she and her family had to move to Pune for work. Suman’s husband was from potraj community and alms he would get did not provide for everyone in the family. Suman was refused many jobs because of her caste and so, she began picking waste and collecting iron rods and scrap material.

“I came to Pune so we could beat the hunger we had experienced in our village. But it was hard; we couldn’t find jobs because of out caste, so I started collecting waste. Later, I realised that if the scrap is segregated properly, it can fetch a better price,” Suman told NDTV.


After rag pickers joined the hands with the local municipality, they could clean out the city economically and effectively. Now, the life of most of the waste collectors is smoother and they face less harassment in the society or by the police. “While picking up the waste, many a time people use to complain or call us thieves and we were dragged to the police station for no reason. Many a time, the police used to humiliate us as well.”

When the activists set up the organisation Kagad, Kach, Patra, Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP) to fight for ragpickers’ rights, things improved, informed Suman. Wastepickers, earlier, used to earn about Rs. 20-40 a day and now, they now earn Rs. 5,000 a month, and are provided with identity cards so they could do their jobs with dignity and respect in the society.

“I was illiterate but I did not want my children to have a similar life, so I worked day and night and we skipped one meal a day to make sure they went to school,” Suman. Suman’s children are doing well in their lives and she is proud of herself that she could do enough for her kids. Out of her 4 kids, one is a journalist with a double Masters degree, another is a graduate preparing for the civil services exams, a third son is a student, and her daughter is married.

Suman’s daughter in law says, “We all tell Aai (Suman) not to work as we are earning well, but she tells us her work gives her joy. All her salary is used to support the education for underprivileged kids in the slum areas, and she personally visits them to ensure they go to school. I am proud of her.”


News as reported by NDTV