‘Happy Number’: New song highlights role of informal waste pickers in Bengaluru

On June 16, the BBC’s international charity launched the second phase of the #invaluable recyclers initiative with the song ‘Happy Number' composed by Vasu Dixit.
Speakers at initiative for waste pickers in Bengaluru
Speakers at initiative for waste pickers in Bengaluru
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Bengaluru, the Silicon Valley of India, has a total of 22,500 informal waste pickers making their living by picking recyclable materials from the streets or waste dumps and then selling them. They are the backbone of the waste management system but often go unrecognised or worse, discriminated against. On Thursday, June 16, BBC Media Action - the BBC’s international charity organisation - launched #invaluable recyclers, the second phase of the Saamuhika Shakti initiative, by collaborating with musician Vasu Dixit to release a song called ‘Happy Number’ as a tribute to informal waste pickers in the city.

The press conference for the same was addressed by environmentalist Vaani Murthy; Soma Katiyar, Executive Creative Director of BBC Media Action; Mansoor, head of Dry Waste Collection Centre; Nalini Shekar, co-founder of Hasiru Dala and Indra, a waste picker in Bengaluru. The Saamuhika Shakti initiative, is a collective standing in solidarity with the informal waste pickers, and it began by partnering with seven organisations and is funded by the H&M Foundation. 

Research done by Hasiru Dala, one of the partner organisations, showed that the informal waste pickers prevent 3,83,250 tons of waste per year from going to the landfills and are instead sent for recycling and to scrap shops. The song ‘Happy Number’ was all about that, highlighting the role and contribution of the informal waste pickers.

In 2019, the H&M foundation brought together social organisations to work as a collective initiative to improve the lives of waste collectors in Bengaluru. It includes better access to social security, housing, sanitation services, education, and to bring about a change in perception at the way the city looks at waste pickers.

“The BBC Media Action aims to change the way people look at garbage collectors and instil a sense of pride and dignity in the waste pickers for the contribution that they make,” said Nishant, head of projects, BBC Media Action. Research carried out by the BBC Media Action found that 55% of respondents believed that informal waste pickers are dirty, and 56% agreed that waste pickers should not be allowed in buildings and societies.

Addressing the press, Indra said she had been a waste picker for 25 years, but before, they were not recognised and were not even allowed to come to a restaurant, but today, she’s sitting in a café and wants more people to recognise their work. “I am very happy today, we have seen songs in films, but today Vasu made our life into a song,” she added. 

Speaking with TNM, Indra said, "Police used to chase or harass us but after we received identity cards from the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), this has brought us more dignity." 

Vasu, the composer of ‘Happy Song’, said that music has an innate quality to reach out to the heart and not just the mind, and it’s a great initiative to use music as a tool to bring about a change.

While talking to TNM, Vasu said he feels the taboo that informal waste pickers are thieves and a menace to society is because of how they look and don’t belong to any organisation. This campaign is to recognise them as humans and build a relationship between them and the citizens. Speaking on the ‘happy number,’ he said, “The song is all about the number and the people behind the number. We have used their names because we wanted to give a face to this song. We talk about 38 crore tons of waste that is prevented from going to landfills, which is equivalent to 95,000 elephants, and that’s the imagery we wanted to give.” In the process of making the song, he visited waste collectors’ homes and found that some start as early as 3:00 in the morning and complete the segregation by 4:00 pm and then send it for recycling. Still, they are happy at the end of the day and are living a respectable life in the community they have built, he said. 

BBC Media Action thought of a song to save the data point and make it more human, and put the limelight on the people who are behind this number, said Soma, in her address. It is a 45-day long campaign, and the song is at the heart of this campaign.

"We were able to do more, and with Saamuhika Shakti, we have created an impact. Collaboration is the key, and the waste pickers have contributed economically to society, and their work has a negative carbon footprint," said Nalini. 

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