15-year-old ragpicker Bilal Ahmad Dar has been earning his livelihood by cleaning Asia’s second biggest freshwater lake, Wular.
He has now been named Srinagar Municipal Corporation’s (SMC) new brand ambassador.
Hailing from the village of Lahawarpora on the banks of Wular, Bilal lost his father Mohammad Ramzan when he was in class 6. The responsibility of the family then lay on the shoulders of young Bilal.
The teenage ragpicker shot to fame after a local filmmaker, Jalal Baba, made a film on his life and struggle.
During the initial years after losing his father, Bilal’s mother raised him and his two sisters, and took care of their expenses. But the meagre savings his father left them did not last for more than a couple of years.
When Bilal was in class 7, he asked his mother for money to pay his school fee and she burst out crying because she didn’t have any. “That was the time when I decided to quit studies and do some menial jobs,” he told The Indian Express.
He started with odd jobs. Some of his stints included working at a garage and another as a helper in a local hotel.
His job at the hotel did not last long, after visitors in the hotel warned the owner about being charged with child labour if he did not dismiss Bilal. “That was another blow,” he recalled.
When Bilal visited Wular lake with his friends, he noticed polyethene and other waste products in the water. “I then began collecting plastic from Wular and selling it. I used to earn ₹200-250 per day,” he said. The earnings helped him make arrangements for one of his sisters’ wedding.
Expressing his concern about the deteriorating state of the water body, Bilal said, “It always pains me to see Wular in shambles. It is a livelihood for many. Our family drinks water from this lake. If we lose this lake, we will have nothing to gift to our future generations if pollution goes on at the same rate. They will curse us.”
He is delighted about his appointment as the Municipal Corporation’s brand ambassador.
“It is a very happy moment for me and my family because many times we had nothing to eat for dinner,” he told Express.
SMC Commissioner Shafqat Khan believes Bilal’s story will inspire citizens to conserve the environment. “People will see a role model in this boy. For us (SMC) he will be the voice box. His story is a message how at times garbage can also be a source of income. We have ordered a specific uniform for him. He will be on task meeting people and enlightening them about pollution and garbage dumping,” he told the publication.
India needs more role models like Bilal. More power to him!