She can’t hear or speak. She cleans the streets of Chennai, India. She feeds and talks to the stray cats and dogs.

Rita
Rita. Photo: M. Palani Kumar.
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This is the kind of woman for whom I have so much admiration. Her name is Rita akka (elder sister). She is inspirational despite being unable to hear or speak and despite having the hardest and the lowliest of jobs. And despite being alone because her husband has died and her daughter, 17, has left home to be with her grandmother. She has purpose and love in her heart in caring for street dogs and cats. She has the strength, physical and mental, despite the arduous nature of her work which she carries out without any protective clothing. She walks barefoot.

Dog waits for Rita
Dog waits for Rita. Photo: M. Palani Kumar.

She spends a significant part of her impoverished salary on feeding stray dogs and cats. These are community animals. There’s a sweet picture on the Internet of a stray dog waiting on the street, one of Rita’s many canine friends, as she approaches. She spends time playing with stray dogs and surrounding herself with them. She talks to them. You can talk to cats and dogs without the ability to speak. When she is interviewed for an article by M. Palani Kumar (the source of this post) she uses her hands and expressions to communicate. Rita has purpose in life among her animal companions.

They bring her happiness and she believes that the money she spends on them is well spent. The sight in one of her eyes is not as good as it should be because of an accident when cleaning the streets. She says that she is tired after a days work. She uses a large tricycle with a container on the back to transport waste from the road to the city’s waste disposal unit. From there it goes to recycling. Rita begins work at 8 am and completes her cleaning by the afternoon. This gives her time to meet and interact with her companion animals.

The photos are by M. Palani Kumar who is a 2019 PARI Fellow, and a photographer who documents the lives of the marginalised. He was the cinematographer for ‘Kakoos’, a documentary on manual scavengers in Tamil Nadu by filmmaker Divya Bharathi. This is a summarised version of his article which you can see by clicking on this link.

[box background=#FFFACD align=center border=true border_rule=’border-css’ border_radius=4 color=#000 margin=1 padding=1 shadow=1 style=’style-rules’ width=80]Two associated pages:

India needs more and better animal shelters


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