The Pheriwales Struggle: A Long Journey To Recycling

Pheriwales manage waste recycling best, whether it's plastic, clothes, newspapers, cardboard, or any other recyclable material

October 4, 2023: Rama, a devoted resident of Bakkarwala in West Delhi, has lived as a pheriwali (hawker) since she was 15 years old. She belongs to the Devipujak community in Gujarat, like many other pheriwalis in Delhi. Her daily routine involves collecting used clothes from neighborhoods in East Delhi, such as Kailash Nagar, Qutub Road, and Gandhi Nagar, and then selling them in the local markets of West Delhi’s Raghubir Nagar. In exchange for these clothes, the pheriwalis provide utensils to the generous residents of these neighborhoods.

However, their simple and sustainable way of life took a drastic turn in 2001 when the Delhi Development Authority demolished their basti (slum).

The displacement

The basti, located near Raghubir Nagar, had been their home and workplace for years, requiring minimal travel. Unfortunately, the demolition forced them to relocate to the outskirts of Delhi, specifically Bakkarwala, about 15 kilometers away from their previous basti. This significant distance has added a new layer of difficulty to their daily lives.

The unchanging relationships

These pheriwales are bound to the neighborhoods they have faithfully served for over three decades. Rama explains, “Our relationships with these communities run deep, and they sometimes even call us when they have clothes to spare. Finding new households or neighborhoods is a challenge. Those posh colonies have security guards who won’t let us in.”

The daily struggle

Rama and her friends begin their day early, around 3–4 a.m., to travel to Raghubir Nagar. With no public transport available at such an hour, they resort to booking cabs, incurring costs ranging from INR 300 to 400. The arduous journey, combined with the burden of carrying gathris (large sacks of clothes), makes using the metro impractical.

Impact on work and income

Jyoti, another pheriwali, sheds light on how this daily journey affects their work and income. They usually return from the colony at 8 or 9 p.m., usually by bus. Clothes fetch better prices when cleaned, repaired, ironed, and well-maintained, but returning home late leaves them with limited time for these crucial tasks.

The story of Rama and the pheriwales illustrates the resilience of individuals striving to maintain their livelihoods in the face of adversity. Their long journey to recycling is not just about distance but also about the enduring relationships they’ve built and the daily struggles they endure. As we acknowledge the challenges they face, it is essential to consider how we can support and improve their circumstances, ensuring their sustainable way of life persists in a changing Delhi.

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