When dirt hits home

In the last few weeks, we have started segregating waste in our apartment complex. Valuable lessons have been learnt on the problems created by thoughtless waste disposal, while understanding how resistant residents can be to change, even if it is for ‘greater good.’

But what I did not expect is – insights into gender equation in households. Before you accuse me of bringing in feminist agenda into waste management, hear me out, I do have a point.

Firstly, when the entire city was stinking up and grappling with how to dispose garbage safely, it was the women in the apartment who mooted the idea of waste segregation. When volunteers from Green Commandos, a voluntary organisation, came to give the presentation on waste management, it was mostly the men who were in attendance. But at the end of the day, when we had to set up a resource management team, out of the 20 volunteers, only two were men.

In the coming weeks, the two men quietly vanished. The women were at the forefront. Women-in-action was the ‘joke.’ For an entire month, the volunteers conducted training sessions for both the residents, domestic workers and housekeeping staff. The loudest of objections were about the rule that all plastic items containing food should be rinsed and dried before disposal. The women complained that this additional work will fall on their heads. Domestic workers complained that the additional work would come their way. Majority of the residents who attended these training sessions were women.

During the training, we talked about sanitary waste but most volunteers hesitated to talk about sanitary pads. Condoms were not even mentioned. The attendees stayed back after the sessions to ask about the best way to dispose condoms amidst much giggles.

When the trial period started a month later, there was much uproar. Little did one realise that waste management meant to save the environment would upset the marital harmony in so many families. When volunteers refused to pick up garbage that was not segregated, the men in the house were asked to take it out of the building and dispose. The men hid the garbage in pretty plastic bags, drove out and swung it out of the window into some vacant plot. Some households relied on domestic workers to dispose it on the way home.

Domestic workers, nearly all women, were a frightened lot, because they spent only a limited time in the houses they worked in, but the onus of segregation was almost entirely on them. And there were talks of fine being levied. Volunteers spent much time convincing that the fine would be levied on the house owners and not on domestic workers.

After about four weeks, over 80 percent of the households were segregating. But the women were not happy. A little digging and out came the truth. The men in the house were not trying hard enough to segregate, apparently. Though each household was given three bins to segregate wet, dry plastic and bio waste, there was a fourth bin – the-I-don’t-know-where-this-goes-bin for the husbands. This was an easier option compared to completely unsegregated mess they would have to sort out otherwise. The bachelors fared lot worse. Neither did they segregate nor were they able to teach the domestic workers how to do it. More garbage packed in pretty packets, went out. Anyone reminded of Kamal Haasan’s film, Pushpak?

House is a woman’s domain, irrespective of whether she is a working woman or not; the waste management, is invariably her problem. Even though the men in BBMP, get to siphon off crores in managing the garbage ‘produced’ by these women.

The women of these houses, where garbage was not segregated or not segregated properly, faced a double whammy of sorts. They were accused of not keeping their house in order. "How can she ask the husband to take the garbage to office?" "How come she’s not toilet trained her almost three-year-old?" "She wastes so much food!" "How can she not wrap the sanitary pad properly?" Condoms were again given the silent treatment.

The very lifestyle was questioned. And somehow it was the woman’s fault.

And the volunteers who spent nearly four hours a day handling the situation also had to juggle between home, children and office and were told they are going ‘crazy about garbage.’

The Solid Waste Management Round Table (SWMRT) that is working with the Palike to sort out this mess has a lot of women participating too.

And before you think I am generalizing, that all men were non-cooperative, let me tell you that majority of the men did take to waste segregation with great gusto. Some willingly, some had to be convinced.

Yes, in an ideal world men would take up household responsibilities without being asked. But a lot of the times it is also true that we women expect so little from the men that they are quite happy to play into that stereotype. Everyone’s happy. Let garbage go down the drain, literally.

About Padmalatha Ravi 40 Articles

Padmalatha Ravi is an independent journalist and filmmaker.