This ragpicker is funding her own poll campaign

After picking waste for seven hours every day, Sojal Bhalerao hits the campaign trail in Dombivli with fellow ragpickers; says she is frustrated with poor sanitation in the area

Her day begins around 5 am searching for garbage, picking up old electronic items, plastic refuse and bottles, which she sells at scrap shops. By noon, she hits the campaign trail — for herself. This is Sojal Yashwant Bhalerao (54) for you, a ragpicker who is bravely contesting the Kalyan Dombivli Municipal Corporation (KDMC) elections to be held on November 1.

Bhalerao has done some social work for the underprivileged in her locality. She also donates free grains. Pic/Sameer Markande
Bhalerao has done some social work for the underprivileged in her locality. She also donates free grains. Pic/Sameer Markande

Bhalerao is trying her luck at ward number 73, Indira Nagar, Kalyan Road at Dombivli East. Frustrated with sanitation issues in her area, she is determined to improve things. “I am contesting elections as I am frustrated with the poor condition of sanitation in the area.

There are no doors to toilets, gutters are not covered and kids fall in them every other day. So many people are suffering from dengue in our locality, nobody is bothered,” she said. The woman who has studied only till Std III hails from Buldhana, and has been a rag picker for over 30 years.

But so sure is she of changing things, that Bhalerao saved the money to pay for the deposit of Rs 2,500, to contest the elections. She is hopeful that she will win because she says all the other candidates are rich or gaowalas (local landowning Agris).

“They don’t understand our pain as they don’t stay in the slums with us. Also once they win, they don’t bother about us. They buy our votes with the power of money. I don’t have money, but I am sure I will convince voters this time to vote for me,” says Bhalerao, whose election symbol is a saucer and cup. She is contesting on the ticket of Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh.

Also Read: From ragpicker to speaker in Geneva conference

Bhalerao, who is a Dalit, is also hopeful of winning because most of the population in her area also belongs to backward castes. She stays in a chawl in the Indira Nagar slums that has around 700 to 750 small hutments. There are 9,771 voters in the area, of which around 5,352 are men and 4,419 are women.

Looking for fellow workers’ support
“I am sure that the women I work with will surely support me. They campaign with me. I have even managed to get a free office from one of my well wishers, as I don’t have the money to pay the rent,” she said. As she cannot afford to pay them, she makes tea at her house and buys Parle G biscuits, and carries this for her workers every evening.

Bhalerao, along with 200 other women from the locality of Indira Nagar picks garbage from Gandhinagar, Sahagaon and Chera Nagar areas and then sells them to scrap shops. “I get between R500 and R600 from selling plastics, and I am free by afternoon so I start campaigning. My three sons Kishore, Rajesh and Bharat help me,” she said.

Taking on Bigwigs
She will be contesting against Swati Patil of BJP, Vimal Burse of Shiv Sena and Darshana Shelar (Congress). “The ward is reserved for female candidates. Bhalerao has done a lot of work for the Dalit people in the area.

She has been celebrating Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Jayanti since past few years in the locality and she also does social work like offering free food to poor. We studied her work and then gave her the ticket,” claims Sudhir Shinde who is the Dombivli President of Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh.

Bhalerao’s husband is a daily wage labourer and her three sons, two of whom studied till HSC and one who dropped out while in SSC, work for private firms. “They have on and off jobs, we can’t rely on them financially. If my husband gets a job he works, or else returns empty handed by afternoon,” she said.

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