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Right to Ragpicking

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The Clean India or Swachh Bharat campaign should not deflect our attention from two significant developments. First, ragpickers have shot into prominence, thanks to the social generosity shown by high-profile political personalities through their symbolic identification with them. The other and, perhaps, much more substantive development involves the ragpickers’ claim, which defines ragpicking as a certain kind of right. However, this particular claim of converting ragpicking into a right differs from the choice that is inherent in symbolic identification. Needless to mention, for public personalities, ragpicking is not a part of their everyday social and material existence, while ragpickers are chained to garbage collection on an everyday basis. Second, ragpickers have not chosen to be in the “business” of ragpicking; in fact, they feel compelled to do so in the course of garbage collection. This feeling of compulsion, therefore, raises a question. If ragpicking is forced, then how can it be seen as a matter of right? This question will make it necessary to explore the nature of such a right. For example, one could ask whether ragpicking is a positive or negative right.

Individual rights have been seen as positive, an enabling device to achieve some degree of social worth. These rights are constitutionally recognised and institutionally protected. As positive injunctions, they enable a person to make a free choice in selecting their work or jobs. The nature of a right, in particular with regard to work, depends on physical labour involving human beings. If the work is decent and clean and carried out in healthy working conditions, this arguably helps in assigning equal human worth to a labouring person. Again, decent and clean work can also be defined in terms of it being competitively attractive. Such quality of work and jobs that are available tends to attract many needy persons who then compete for it. Getting decent work through competition adds to personal worth and social value. Competition for decent jobs, thus, introduces hierarchy in social value that a particular job or line of work carries in the formal job market. Prestige as social value, therefore, depends on the hierarchical assessment of work or a job. Arguably, these days, jobs acquired in the corporate or government sectors tend to enjoy a relatively higher social status. Thus, such conditions provide the grounds for a positive definition of the right to work. Do the ragpickers define their right to ragpicking in terms of the above conditions? The answer cannot be given in the affirmative. This is due to three reasons.

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Updated On : 16th Oct, 2019

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