Ragpicker girls

On the Go

On yet another visit to Rishikesh, Pankaja, with Subhuti in tow, looks at the changes that have happened since and documents the plight of the children growing up in the middle of garbage mounds.

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There’s such a wonderful side to Rishikesh that continues to attract more and more visitors from around the world, looking for yoga classes and meditation. One of the first things Pankaja finds out is that approximately 500 new hotels and ashrams have been built in the two years since her last visit. Strolling around with Pankaja, Subhuti smiles when he says, “This time I really fell in love with Rishikesh.” At the same time he seriously wonders if all this growth is sustainable, especially because of the uncontrolled building boom and inability to maintain a clean environment.

In comes the other side of Rishikesh, one that is hidden away from the public eye and the tourists. It is a subculture of poor Indian families and their children that has sprung up among mountains of unsorted garbage, picked in particular by many small girls who face a very uncertain future. “These are girls who live in the town rubbish dump – their work, along with their parents, is sorting rubbish – including hospital waste – into bags, and selling it for 10 rupees a kilogram… The young girls themselves are sometimes sold also…,” says Oinak Singh. He and his brother, Gagan Singh, grew up in Ramana’s Children Home and now, as young adults have taken over much of the activities and day-to-day organisation, which Prabhavati Dwabha used to run full-time.

To alleviate the plight of orphans and abandoned children is Prabhavati Dwabha’s life committment. After establishing Ramana’s Garden 25 years ago and bringing up dozens of children in a holistic way and also enabling them to have higher education, she has set her sights on helping the girls from the ragpicker community. She was recently given US$ 100,000 by a Hong Kong-based charity to build accommodation and care for some of these girls at Ramana’s Garden, but more money will be continually needed for their care and education.



Bhagawati is a communicator, writer and author with a penchant for gardening and India.

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