About twenty years ago, JC Road was the area where the bone collectors of the city resided. As part of a special series of shows on these workers, I spoke to six women, all of whom had come to the area twenty years ago and have been residing there ever since.
Youngsters involved in waste-picking do not collect bones anymore and this was interesting to me since it only seemed natural that workers in the area took up what they knew best. The bones from slaughter-houses are collected and sold by owners themselves and there is not much that’s thrown out. Bone-picking, therefore, has become an unviable occupation. Waste-picker families now stick to collecting paper and plastic.
Most of these workers continue to endure extreme difficulties. They use only clay plates, glasses, and pots at home and cannot afford to replace them if they are damaged. This made me understand the depths of their financial disadvantage. Trying to make ends meet simply through bone-collection is tough, especially because the workers get paid only when they have sold their weekly collection every Saturday.
The workers related their everyday stories to me. They recollected how they never travel by bus but instead walk everywhere they had to go and collected bones on the way. They usually start work very early in the morning to ensure a good collection. I was awestruck when I heard that not only did they walk long distances but also carried their load on their backs while doing so. They also have to put up with maggots and other insects while carrying and drying these bones. I wondered more than once why they continued to do this job inspite of the problems and they always told me that they had no option but to do it since their livelihood depended on it.
The bones that these workers painstakingly pick, clean, dry and sell are used in the making of urea and soap, among other uses. This was a new piece of information for me. It made me understand anew how powerful recycling is, and how it allows us to make something entirely new and useful out of even discarded bones.
I always knew what bone-collection was, but this was the first time that I could interact with bone-pickers themselves. I was intrigued by and amazed at their determination to keep going at a job that didn’t give them back much. They continue to contribute to the city’s recycling machinery inspite of being near invisible to its citizens. I came out of the project with a renewed appreciation for the workers.