The long road to recycling: Pheriwalis struggle for time

Location IconWest Delhi district, Delhi

Rama, a resident of the Bakkarwala area in West Delhi, has been a pheriwali (hawker) since she was 15 years old. She is among the many pheriwalis in Delhi who trace their identity to the Devipujak community in Gujarat. Her work involves collecting used clothes from neighbourhoods such as Kailash Nagar, Qutub Road, Gandhi Nagar, and other areas in East Delhi, and selling them in the local markets of West Delhi’s Raghubir Nagar. In exchange for the clothes, the pheriwalis give utensils to the residents of these neighbourhoods. This was a simple and sustainable livelihood system for the pheriwalis until the Delhi Development Authority demolished their basti (slum) in 2001.

The basti was near Raghubir Nagar so the only travel they had to undertake was to the neighbourhoods. But the demolishment forced them to move to the peripheries of Delhi. They were resettled in a locality in Bakkarwala, approximately 15 km away from the basti, which has significantly increased the distance they have to travel to reach Raghubir Nagar.

The pheriwalis don’t have the option of changing the neighbourhoods they have been frequenting for 30 years now because of their trusting relationships with the people in these areas. Rama explains, “We have been visiting them for a long time now, and sometimes they even reach out to us when they have a pile of clothes to give away. It’s challenging to find new households or neighbourhoods. You see those guards in those fancy colonies? They don’t even let us in.”

“I wake up early in the morning, around 3–4 am, and travel to Raghubir Nagar with my friends,” says Rama. Since no public transport is available at that time, the women book a cab to reach the market—this costs them INR 300–400.      

The odd hours of travel with the added burden of carrying gathris (large sacks of clothes) makes it inconvenient for the pheriwalis to use the metro. Jyoti, who is in the same profession, talks about how the travel affects their work and income. “We come back from the colony at 8 or 9 pm, usually taking the bus. The clothes fetch better prices when they are cleaned, darned, ironed, and maintained well. But when we return home at night, we don’t have much time to sort them.”

Anuj Behal is an urban researcher and practitioner.

Know more: Learn how climate change and housing affects stone-pasting workers in Ahmedabad.

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