In South Delhi is a vast mountain of debris and refuse. It’s solid. It’s thick and when you get up close to it or climb up on to the summit you’ll think you’re walking on a mountain made of plastic bags and old bottles. Lorries bring the rubbish to this place from all across Delhi’s suburbs, making the South Delhi dump one of the world’s largest such landfills. Homes and shops nestle right up to the bottom of the garbage mountain which is a one of the largest employers in the area. Each day local residents rummage through the rubbish in search of salvageable flotsam and jetsam that can either be recycled or reused. They work in shifts and all ages are involved. Most numerous, as you’d expect, are children who are asked by their parents to go to work instead of school, so everyone in the family can eat. This young boy works on the rubbish heap with his sisters most days for several hours. His face is covered with ugly, puss filled boils from working in such close and continuous proximity to rotting filth. It’s a common facial feature of the people in this neighborhood. While he is compelled to work as a child laborer, he and a large group of other children have access to learning through a Children’s Club run by an NGO and which provides them a safe environment to play and learn the basics of writing and reading.
Not so Sunita, who sells fans in Chandni Chowk. She followed me around for a while and when I asked her a few questions about why she worked, where she lived and why she wasn’t in school, she simply shrugged and answered in monosyllables. I love India. Always have. But the more I return the more I see below the surface.