Seated on a mat next to her rickshaw, Manwara Begum says there are days when she cannot bring herself to eat. An informal worker and a member of the Safai Sena, 46-year-old Begum collects waste in the NDMC area. She and her husband go door-to-door picking up cardboard, plastic, glass bottles, and periodicals — all recyclable for a sum of money. However, there is another kind of waste that is a nuisance to deal with.
On days when she is handed a large package filled with soft rectangles stained with blood, her appetite entirely escapes her. The first time she encountered a stained sanitary napkin, Manwara was eight years old. She had accompanied her father to a hospital in the New Delhi area to clear the dustbins.
“I saw blood on white napkins and didn’t know what it was,” she said. Years later, she would use them herself. She has since switched back to using cloth: “I can wash and reuse it. It’s cleaner.”
Manwara and her husband, Mohammad Nazir, can be found sorting out trash very close to the Leela Hotel in Central Delhi.
Stating that her biggest batch of sanitary napkins is from the embassies that line Chanakyapuri, Manwara says, “There should be separate government dustbins to dispose of sanitary napkins and diapers. Otherwise, dogs often rip apart a used napkin.”
She has heard of the tax on sanitary napkins. “If people are going to make money on a product, they should also care about how it is disposed. These companies should provide clearly marked disposable covers which can serve as markers for people like us, so we know exactly what we are dealing with.”
When confronted with a batch of used napkins, Manwara and Nazir dispose it at the nearest dhalao. For the past few months, however, she has stopped doing her rounds owing to ill-health. Her son fills in for her now.
Over the past four decades, the couple have seen the city expand through its garbage. “There was hardly any garbage when I was a kid. Now, there are different varieties of the same product,” says Manwara.