Last week, FactorDaily’s Pankaj Mishra wrote one of the most definitive stories on India’s e-waste crisis ever written. Told through the lives of people living and working in Seelampur, a Delhi basti whose inhabitants specialise in stripping down discarded electronics into valuable metals and other resalable elements, the story was an indictment of the modern desire to own ever newer versions of gadgets. It was a very special story for all of us at FactorDaily, because as much as we love our gadgets, we love our planet and its people even more.
And then we came across this brilliant comic, that tells a similar story with different protagonists and in a kick-ass graphic novel format. Once we saw it, we realised saving Seelampur, its economy and the environment couldn’t be a matter of writing one story; this had to be a campaign. So we started the #SaveSeelampur campaign, and will continue to throw focus on the huge e-waste problem India is dealing with, through stories, videos and original artwork.
This comic-book, created by Damage Control Consultancy Pvt Ltd, a New Delhi-based design and data visualisation firm, in collaboration with Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group and GIZ Indo-German Environment Partnership, charts the life-cycle of a ‘WisePhone’ from birth to death, and possibly, a re-birth.
The story starts in ‘Silicon Vihar’ or ‘Sili Vihar’, a crowded urban sprawl on the eastern fringes of Delhi, where a sackful of old and discarded phones have been dumped.
The phones don’t know what their fate is going to be. While most are Smartphones, one of them is a WisePhone, and it knows it doesn’t really have to be stripped bare and killed.
The WisePhone tells all the other phones where they all came from — their origin story.
The WisePhone knows what phones are made of, and where they finally end up when their owners get tired of them and sell them either on the black market or to phone showrooms… The companies that manufactured these phones don’t want to take the responsibility of old and ‘outdated’ phones, so these end up in small pockets of unorganised recycling activity like Sili Vihar.
This is what happens in Sili Vihar:
Here, a new tribe of gold-diggers handle the world’s branded trash with bare hands, naked eyes, in high temperatures — using just intuition and experience.
Women wash chips and motherboards in acid, burning their bare hands in the process…
All so that we can buy a new phone as soon as it’s in the market — even though our old phone is still working fine. This is Aakil, WisePhone’s former owner.
The media starts taking notice of the mountains of e-waste growing in our backyards…
Study after study talks about the hazardous nature of e-waste.
The new laws create panic in Sili Vihar. The residents are about to lose their only source of income…
And some people find a new, more sustainable solution.
It’s a good day for WisePhone when Shamsher picks it up.
And Rinku, who also lives in Sili Vihar and works at a beauty parlour, gets her first mobile phone — who else but WisePhone.
It’s not really a happy ending though… People at places like Sili Vihar and Seelampur continue to use hazardous ways to strip discarded phones of their precious metals and we continue to dump our old-but-still-working phones because we can.
But at least, WisePhone and Rinku get a happy ending. A somewhat happy ending…
This feature has used selected panels of the comic. To view the full version or buy a printed version, contact damagecontrol.in.