Behind the high-end furniture showrooms in Srinagar's Babedemb area is a marshy land spreading over 40-square-metres and has been inhabited by migrant rag pickers for over two-decades.
The land is demarcated by piles of worn-out tyres, plastic bottles, empty oil cans, and other recyclable materials.
From entrance to the fringes, this trash is segregated and stockpiled in large white nylon gunny sacks, ready to be sold to local Kashmiri buyers, who then export it to outside J&K, says Mohammad Aalam, a 36-year-old ragpicker who has been in this business here since 2005.
There are thirteen families and around 40-people living in the swamp.
“This is our home and our workplace too,” says Aalam with a giggle.
However, in winters, most of the families migrate back to their places and only a few stay to look after the land and the business.
“This is rag for you and ‘Maal’ for us,” Aalam quips.
“If we leave, others might take over this business by getting in touch with the hoteliers and other business establishments from whom we collect the stock,” Aalam says as he maneuvers the maze-like streets created by the stockpiling of rags on the sides.
The shanties have been covered with cardboard boxes, tarpaulin and polythene on the outside as well as inside to make them water and snow resistant even as it keeps them warm during the harsh winters of Kashmir.
From New Delhi to West Bengal and Bihar to Assam, rag-pickers from different regions of India come here to work, says Iftikhar Ali, a 26-year-old ragpicker even as he looks at the stockpiled material with his deep sunken eyes.
Mohammad Aalam and Rubel say in a span of over two-decades, they haven’t been troubled by the locals or police or the administration.