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BRICKS KILNS : WHAT A SHAME !

BRICKS KILNS : WHAT A SHAME !
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Supplying to the mammoth real estate industry and the rising construction activity are the numerous brick kilns located in and around Hyderabad. While...

Supplying to the mammoth real estate industry and the rising construction activity are the numerous brick kilns located in and around Hyderabad. While these brick kilns thrive on the age-old malady, bonded labour, it is the blatant manner in which they continue to employ young kids - as young as six years - to work in inhuman conditions, away from basic education and health facilities, that comes as a shocker
  • Families survive on broken rice and are paid Rs 300 per week towards food expenses by brick-kiln ownersA
  • They work for 16-18 hours a day
  • Sexual and physical abuse is rampantA
  • They are not allowed to leave the brick kilns
T P Venu BriksWith large eyes, dishevelled brown hair and sun burnt skin, Nrupa Suna, all of eight, could easily be mistaken for a 12 year old girl. Wearing a torn shirt meant for men double her size; she goes about placing bricks under the scorching sun at a brick kiln in Dundigal. She is not alone. There are close to 20,000 children between the ages 6-14 working in the 175 brick kilns in and around Hyderabad. Over burdened by loans, people from drought prone districts of Koraput, Bolangir and Kalahandi of Odisha, succumb to the wiles of contractors or sardars and are brought to work in brick kilns in the state. Deeply in debt, people are promised a better life and are paid an advance of Rs 10,000 to 18,000 and packed off to Kantabanji, a town in Bolangir district from where their ordeal starts. Thousands are pushed into unreserved compartments in trains and sent to Visakhapatnam and from there to different parts of the state. A large number end up in Maheshwaram, Dundigal and Jinnaram and along the outer ring road where many brick kilns are located, to work in sub-human conditions.
Born into bonded labour
howWith just a single crop possible in the drought prone western districts of Odisha, the landless and the marginal land owning class inevitably get into a debt trap and the sardars take advantage of their plight. This leads the entire families to migrate to Andhra Pradesh. Men, women and even grandparents are forced to work in the brick kilns in sub-human conditions. Children too are not spared and they work alongside their parents. Surviving on broken rice, they work for 16-18 hours a day. They live in temporary sheds and have no access to clean water, medicine and doctors. B N Yugandhar, former member, Planning Commission, says "The bonded labour act is a powerful tool and the state should act upon anyone who is making people work as bonded labour." But for the 4 lakh brick kiln workers in the state, it is nothing but bonded labour as whole families work for six months in deplorable conditions and in fear. A Krishna, social worker of Centre for Labour Research and Action who has been working for the betterment of brick kiln workers says, "According to 2 (g) section of the Bonded Labour Act, if the debtor takes the services of any of the family members for a specified period of time with or without wages accompanied by the denial of alternative avenues of employment and deny freedom of movement it is bonded labour."
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He adds, "The workers are not paid minimum wages, the women are sexually exploited, they are not allowed to leave the brick kilns and have no access to medical facilities. Though there is a provision for the arrangement of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan schools, no brick kiln owner bothers to provide the facility. A few who did arrange have done it under pressure from social activists." There is severe exploitation � The workers are paid Rs 220 for 1,000 bricks whereas the minimum rate set by the government is Rs 387. What is even more alarming is the amount in many cases is for the work done by both husband and wife. With no one to turn to and no legal recourse these workers suffer at the hands of owners and work from 4 am till 8 pm. Every week Rs 300 is given to each family for food. Hari Hathi, a worker in a brick kiln at Ibrahimpatnam says, "We have six members in the family. When we asked for extra money the owner beat me." Vasudha Nagaraj, human rights lawyer, says, "In this sector there isn't any paper work. The workers are brought here without an appointment letter and no documentation. This makes it even more difficult from a legal point of view. There is a need to make it more organised."
Lost childhood
Brick making is a laborious process and children are used for two works; to flip the bricks from their sleeping position so that they can be exposed to the sun and the other is to break large charcoal pieces that are used to fire the brick kiln. Ramachandra Naik, a worker at Dundigal, says, "The bricks are laid out in vast tracks of land and if adults walk over them they break, children are used to flip them from one position to another till the bricks become strong." Children as young as six years are woken up at 3:30 am and made to work till 9 am and once again they are pressed into service at 3 pm. There is no specific wage allotted for children. When asked if they would like to go to school, children at a brick kiln in Dundigal sang in chorus that they would love to. Surprisingly a few knew how to read and write in Oriya. Lava Kumar, a 12-year-old child who knows to write in Oriya asked, "Can you arrange for a school here. I love to go to school." According to the Supreme Court order if there are 30 children, a non-residential bridge course centre should be established under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Sadly there aren't any schools in the 175 odd brick kilns in and around Hyderabad. Each of these kilns has a minimum of 30 families. There is at least one child from each family working. Once they reach the brick kilns the 16-18 hour work ordeal starts and continues till the first week of June when they are sent back to Odisha once again in unreserved compartmentsEfforts to sensitise brick kiln owners have fallen on deaf ears. Social organisations and socially conscious students and teachers of Hyderabad Central University have been working to provide better working conditions and for minimum wage. Solidarity Committee of the Rangareddy Brick kiln Workers' Union was recently formed and it also held a meeting where 250 workers participated in spite of being threatened by brick kiln owners. Some were beaten up once they returned to the kilns. The efforts by activists of Action Aid, Praayas Centre for Labour and Action, students and teachers of Hyderabad Central University, lawyers and human rights activists have been making a difference as the plight of the workers at brick kilns was brought to the notice of the district collector and the labour department. Odisha MP Baijayant Panda too came on a fact finding mission and visited the kilns in Maheshwaram mandal. Some workers were rescued and sent back to their hometowns while the majority keeps toiling away in slave-like conditions making bricks for the malls, glass and chrome structures that glitter in the city for the emerging middle class. "It is the neo-liberal economic policies that were unleashed in the early 90s that has led to the present situation forcing people, who would otherwise be engaged in agriculture, to migrate to cities and work as bonded labour, says Tathagupta Sengupta, Assistant Professor of Mathematics and human rights activist. In another month or so the impoverished families will make their journey back to the parched lands of their native villages only to return once again in November. With the vicious trap laid out by the landed class, the hapless workers will in all probability fall into a debt trap one more time, only to be packed off like swarms in unreserved compartments to return to make bricks for a so called shining India.
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