How this rag picker battled all odds to work at a COVID-19 medical centre

Rahul M
·3-min read

When the pandemic took away her livelihood, Shantaben began working in a COVID centre to provide for her family.

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent nationwide lockdown have had a devastating impact on India's informal sector. This is the story of Shantaben Chamanbhai Parmar who overcame challenges and is celebrated as a warrior of hope in Population Foundation of India's 'Himmat Hai to Jeet Hai' campaign.

Also read: How pandemic-hit artisans overcame their challenges with grit

Shantaben is a single mother and the only earning member of her family. Previously, she earned a livelihood working as a ragpicker. However, the lockdown reduced Shanben’s mobility and made it impossible for her to continue with her work. Her income dried up as a result. Shantaben recalls the difficulties she faced, "before Corona, I made a living by collecting paper and garbage. During the lockdown, it felt as if our stomachs too had been locked out. At this time, I received an offer to be a plumber and even though I didn't know much about plumbing, I accepted."

Shantaben’s new job was at a COVID-19 medical centre, where every day brought new challenges. Pipes would frequently burst in the bathrooms; conditions were unsanitary, and patients’ belongings and clothes were strewn everywhere. Shantaben was also constantly mindful of the dangers of infection. Yet she was able to learn on the job and keep herself safe. As she says, "I banished my fear, picked up my bag and went to work every day."

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People in her chawl (neighbourhood) however began to mistreat her once they learnt about her work. Afraid that Shantaben would transmit COVID-19, they would pour water on her, threaten and abuse her. She recounts, "My neighbours would pull their kids away from me and tell them that I was doing dirty work, and that I shouldn't be allowed to enter the premises. Cases were filed against me. And I even received threats that I would be sent to jail. Despite this, I never gave up because I had to feed my daughter and earn a living."

Her daughter Meenal says, "I was worried for my mother because after my father expired, she has had to shoulder all our responsibilities. Today, I am really proud to call myself her daughter."

Shantaben concludes, "I overcame a tough phase with hope and courage. My experience has taught me that himmat hai to jeet hai!"

Also read: Small Business Ideas for Women in India That Can Become Hugely Successful


The Himmat Hai Toh Jeet Hai campaign by Population Foundation of India that was launched in September with a stirring anthem, continues to celebrate stories of courage and hope during the ongoing pandemic. The campaign is guided by renowned film and theatre director Feroz Abbas Khan. Khan is Population Foundation’s Creative Advisor and has directed their flagship trans-media edutainment show Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon. Through this campaign, the organisation is showcasing real stories of fortitude exhibited by people across society from frontline workers to COVID-19 survivors.

About Population Foundation of India: Population Foundation of India was founded in 1970 by a group of socially committed industrialists led by the late JRD Tata and Dr. Bharat Ram. Population Foundation of India, a national non-governmental organisation, supports and promotes gender-sensitive and people-friendly population, health and development programmes and policies. The organisation works with governments, both at the national and state levels, and with NGOs in the areas of strategic engagement, community action for health, adolescent reproductive & sexual health as well as social & behaviour change communication.


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