Bilal was in his teens when he single handedly clean Wular Lake in Kashmir. He was hailed as an inspiration all over India and was even praised for his efforts by PM Narendra Modi. He was then called to Srinagar and appointed as Brand Ambasador of Kashmir cleanliness drive. Several years have passed by since then, he has neither received compensation for his work, nor has been able to continue his work at Wular Lake. Read Bilal’s full story from Kashmir.
Bilal Ahmad Dar, a 21 year old man from Kashmir spends most of his time trying to make his ends meet. With monthly medical bills of his mother and no permanent source of income, Bilal constantly is constantly worried if there will be a time when there is no money left to buy food for his family.
Bilal is the sole breadwinner of his family in Bandipora. After his father’s death in 2008 due to cancer, family’s responsibilities came on Bilal’s young shoulders. His father was a ragpicker, and Bilal ended up following the same line of work, but that was not enough. He was able to earn meagre living by picking up waste from the Wular Lake in Bandipora district of North Kashmir.
He had a glimmer of hope when back in 2017 Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated him for single handedly cleaning Wular Lake and called him a source of inspiration for all.
Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) had also appointed him as its Swachata brand ambassador for the cleanliness drive with monthly salary of Rs 8,000. The administration had even promised to allot a vehicle and a shikara to support his campaign. He was called to Srinagar by the officials and occupy the post of “Brand Ambassador of SMC”. He was expected to spread awareness about environment, attend meetings, and become the face of cleanliness mission in Kashmir. In hope of a brighter future, Bilal relocated to Srinagar. However, life there did not turn out to be the way he had imagined.
“I was thinking I got a government job and now my worries will go away but I feel betrayed fate has put me in such a situation where I have no room to treat and I am finding it difficult to deal with the uncertainty,” said Bilal.
When he reached Srinagar, he claims that he was given no such post. In fact, he was asked to disinfect COVID19 patients. He further mentions that the SMC told him that there is no such post officially. It’s been four years since Bilal has relocated to Srinagar, and he says that he hasn’t received any salary or remuneration.
Earlier, Bilal Dar used to earn his living by picking up waste from Wular Lake in Bandipora district of North Kashmir. After his father’s sudden death, Bilal started collecting plastic and other waste from Wular Lake to support his family. Dar was 14 year old and used to earn Rs 200 per day.
“I was earning my living by cleaning the Wular Lake and later when the PM complimented me in his Mann ki baat programme, I was called to Srinagar by some officials. I was given the post of brand ambassador of Srinagar Municipal Corporation which, of course, never happened. I don’t know how long this struggle will last and I don’t know when it ends, if it ends. I am uncertain what will happen for now until then,” said Bilal in his makeshift home at Bandipora.
Bilal Ahmad Dar first came in limelight through a short film (saving the saviour) by a Kashmiri filmmaker, Jalal Jeelani. The film called Saving the Saviour, features then 13-year old boy Bilal from lahawagat Bandipora who used to scavenge Wular water from plastic trash for his livelihood. The short film won many accolades and was broadcasted on national geography channel.
“That movie gave me the recognition and wings to my dreams, but the way I am being treated right now has broken all those wings and shattered my dreams,” said Bilal with tears trickling down
Mugli Begum, mother of Bilal doesn’t feel shy to admit that her son was used as a symbol of advertisement by government for their personal agenda.
“We are not able to build our own house. I work as a domestic helper in my locality to overcome my financial constraints. People say my son is doing job in municipality and earning 30-40 thousand rupees but I have never seen anything. I feel our condition has gone from bad to worse since his name was announced on radio. I request authorities please release his salary as we are poor people, we are suffering a lot.”
“Bilal was a talented boy, but his service was misused after declaring him brand ambassador, he should have been allowed to continue his work of cleanliness drive in Wular. By relocating him to Srinagar he became the victim of ignorance and he got financially bankrupt. Government should rehabilitate him and should take benefit from his service,” said M Rafiq Wani, president, youth volunteer organization Bandipora.
Bilal believes Wular is very much close to his heart and his relocation to Srinagar has turned the Wular into a place for dumping garbage because nobody cares about it as much as he did.
“I am emotionally attached to Wular Lake because I have spent my childhood there and I feel it’s our duty to keep it clean as it brings us basic necessity of life. I feel ashamed by looking at the garbage in Wular, it hurts me a lot. I am really sorry!” says Bilal while glancing towards the Wular.
“My main solicitation to the government now is to fulfil the promise they made to me, otherwise I don’t have any choice other than self destruction,” he added further.
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