The latest figure available with the Human Rights Commission shows over 14 million children living under slavery. “If one does an honest counting, this number would surely jump to twice that — perhaps closer to 30 million,” said National Convener of People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), Lenin Raghuvanshi. “Men, women and children are forced to work as bonded labourers in brick kilns and bangle industry. Unfortunately, women and children are never accounted for,” he added.
Raghuvanshi believes bonded labour is a contemporary form of slavery. “If it is still existing, it is a clear reflection of the failure of welfare state. The Government, which is supposed to provide them basic necessities, has failed them. As they are poor, they move out to eke out a living in cities and end up as bonded labourers in brick kilns and factories,” he added.
Majority of these bonded labourers are migrants workers who shift from impoverished regions like Bundelkhand, Bihar and Jharkhand in search of work, and since they are unskilled workers, they end up in brick kilns or bangle factories of Firozabad. In brick kilns, the entire family works as a team. “These migrant workers are allotted a piece of land by the owner where the workers have to dig the earth and then wet it with water to make the mud suitable for the moulding process. Generally for moulding, the whole family is engaged, including young children,” said Convener, Voice of People, Shruti Nagvanshi.
The labourers are paid Rs200 for making 1,000 bricks, which are then sold in the market for Rs7,000! These labourers are recruited by agents, who ask them to take their family along. “It is an attractive prospect where one is allowed to take his family with him. The labourer is promised accommodation, is often paid an advance — which is a veiled term for debt. Once he accepts the advance, he falls into the trap,” she explained.
The workers are not allowed to leave the brick kiln premises, and the living conditions are barely basic. Labourers live in shanties with bricks piled one upon another as walls and straw covering the top, which do not afford any protection from the sun and rains. These rooms are small, measuring 4 feet x 5 feet. In such tiny rooms, labourers and their families have to manage their kitchen and keep their household goods.
Studies carried out by different agencies also point to alleged sexual exploitation of women in brick kilns. Radha (name changed) was lured from her village in Jharkhand on the pretext of a job by another women and sold as a bonded labourer in a brick kiln at Jaunpur. She told human rights activists that she was raped daily by the brick kiln owner and was beaten up when she protested.
Young children are the worst sufferers though. They do not go to schools and instead help their parents arrange bricks for drying, and collect the broken and improperly moulded bricks. Once they get older, they are drawn into this trade having being trained from young age.
Kamla, mother of five, revealed how her two youngest children, Medhu (5) and Rani (3), used to cry for food. With barely Rs200 she made for making 1,000 bricks, she didn’t have enough to feed her family, and her daughter died of malnutrition before she could turn four.
Workers employed in brick kilns mostly belong to the Schedule Caste (SC), Schedule Tribe (ST) and minorities, which are usually non-literate and non-numerate. They do not easily understand the arithmetic of loan/debt/advance, and documentary evidence remains with the creditor and its contents are never made known to them.
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