In west Delhi’s Pandav Nagar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Mission has an unlikely mascot in 65-year-old transgender Bijli Kinnar. The nondescript residential colony — a melange of DDA flats, JJ clusters and slums — had been battling a ‘garbage dump’ for over 25 years, said locals.
But ever since Bijli began sitting near it over a year ago, brandishing a thick stick at men and women alike for dumping their daily refuse, the heap and the stench have both disappeared.
Former BJP legislator R P Singh was the first person who thought Bijli could turn around the ‘state of affairs’. “Initially, the civic bodies had appointed two boys to stand guard next to the Pandav Nagar MCD school gate but they would hang around only for a few hours and often get into brawls with the locals. They would ask, ‘Agar yahan nahi daalenge toh kahan daalenge?’ (If we don’t dump our garbage here then where do we throw it?). The boys stopped reporting to work soon after,” recalls Bijli.
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It was almost a year ago, even before Modi announced his Swachh Bharat drive, that Singh first saw Bijli idling her time near the garbage heap and thought of roping her in to do the task. “Bijli is not only feared but also respected in the locality. She can chase people away with much ease,” says Singh.
For the first three months, Singh paid Bijli Rs 5,000 a month just to stand near the dump and stop people from dumping their garbage in the area. She too encountered residents who yelled back at her But an alert Bijli sat on a white plastic chair, looking suspiciously at every passerby as a potential litterbug.
“In the beginning, I had also put a picture of a goddess, hoping god-fearing residents would not drop their waste here but that did not work. What finally did, was my choicest of abuses and a few whacks with my stick,” Bijli chuckles.
Though Singh was voted out of power in the February Assembly polls and the money has stopped, Bijli still arrives sharp at 4.30 am every morning and stands guard till 9 pm, next to a relatively clean spot now.
Gulshan Bajaj, a member of the local RWA, who stood by Bijli and kept guard for a few hours every day, says, “Since residents had gotten into the habit of dropping their garbage here, it was difficult for them to stop. By not giving their refuse to the garbage collector each day, they would save Rs 100… During monsoons, the whole area got clogged.”
Residents admit it was Bijli’s tireless efforts over the past year that has changed the face of the locality. But for Bijli, there is a lot to be done still. “Instead of cleaning up Connaught Place, if our leaders think of cleaning up the various localities in the city that would be of more help to residents. What is Swachh Bharat if your own neighbourhood isn’t clean?” she asks.