From rag picker to role model: Bandipora boy is epitome of cleanliness

Appreciating his contribution towards cleanliness, the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) appointed Bilal as its brand ambassador in July 2017.

Bilal Ahmad Dar grew up in the lap of nature: his home in the Laharwarpora village of North Kashmir’s Bandipora was situated at a walking distance from the Wular lake.

Bilal was only nine years old when his father, a rag-picker, passed away in 2007 after a battle with cancer. His illness was detected only a few months before his death. The family spent whatever it had at its disposal – which included selling ancestral land – on his treatment, but to no avail.  With no means of income to support his mother and his two sisters, circumstances forced Bilal, the eldest of the three children, to give up his studies and look for work. He was in the sixth standard then, and not finding much success with his efforts to find a job, Bilal ended up becoming a rag-picker himself.

The death of his father changed his relationship with the lake. Though he does not have any documented proof, but Bilal is of the belief that the alarming level of pollution in the lake had something to do with his father’s illness. 

"The water that we drink comes from the Wular. Every bit of food prepared in our homes has a bit of the Wular in it. How can people remain healthy if the lake is so badly polluted", asks Bilal philosophically, displaying a sense of wisdom not commonly associated with an eighteen-year-old high school dropout.

Despite having suffered the loss that he did, Bilal did not develop any negative feelings towards the lake. He, instead, started collecting waste material from the Wular lake – which once used to be among the largest fresh water lakes in Asia – to meet the expenses of his family. Over the years, Bilal has ended up collecting around 12,000 kgs of trash from in and around the Wular lake. 

Appreciating his contribution towards cleanliness, the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) appointed Bilal as its brand ambassador in July 2017. In September the same year, his efforts attracted praise from none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who made a mention of what Bilal had ended up achieving in his Mann Ki Baat address to the nation on radio.

There was a time when Bilal would earn around Rs 150-200 per day after selling the trash that he collected from the lake. On occasions he would rent a boat for the day to continue with his passion of cleaning the lake. "There were days when I would leave home at 6:30 in the morning and come back at 11:00 in the night with garbage from the remotest parts of the lake", says Bilal, adding that on many occasions, the only thing he would have during the day was just a sip of water from some clean area of the lake. Having been an eyewitness to the gradually deteriorating condition of the Wular, Bilal believes that the "future generations will curse us if pollution goes on at the same rate and we lose the lake".