Brick kiln workers see no hope of relief
BUDGAM: Despite the assurances of successive governments that laws are in place to guarantee pay and working condition safety, brick kiln labourers say the realities of life at the kilns suggest otherwise.
The workers, most of whom work all day in dangerous conditions, making and firing in kilns for as little as Rs 200 a day, allege that they have been left at God’s mercy.
According to the kiln workers, they are forced into bonded labour, denied minimum wages and harassed and implicated in fake cases if they try to resist the oppression of influential brick-kiln owners.
Talking to Kashmir Reader, the workers claimed that the government has fixed the minimum wage at around Rs 700 per 1,000 bricks, “but owners give us less than Rs 200,” a worker said. “The owners sell the same bricks at around Rs 7,000 per 1,000 bricks in the market.”
Baking 1,000 bricks takes a minimum of two workers and at least a full day, the workers said. They added that the owners cut ‘advance’(money) from the wages that they had lent to the workers during a week’s work — so workers usually do not get more than Rs 150 for a batch of bricks, which means only Rs 75 per worker as daily wage .
“We are a group of five labourers working together for firing the bricks; in return, the owner pays us Rs 12,000 a month. But out of this money, we have to spend money on mess and medicines etc,” Rajesh, a labourer from Luknow, said.
He added, “At the end of the month, only Rs 2,000 remain, which is a very low, meagre income. We have families too at our homes, how can we feed them when all of our money goes to our own use?”
The labourers further said that the owners want to “break their backs”, so the workers can never ask for their rights.
“Unless there is pressure from higher-ups, the workers’ pitiful condition is not going to change,” said labourer Ankit Sharma. “Brick kiln owners subject us to physical torture. If any of our male members manage to run away from the kilns, the owner directs their vengeance towards the women,” said a worker woman, Deepali.
She added, “Owners threaten us with severe consequences if we demand a raise in return for our labour.”
Babloo, 18, works as an unbaked brick maker and helps his father in the back breaking task of carrying clay and bricks. “I accompany my family to the workplace at six o’clock in the morning and work all day, ending late when it is dark,” he said.
“During summer, it becomes hard to sustain the heat and work pressure. Often my hands are burnt while carrying baked bricks.”
Not only this, most of the workers at brick kilns suffer from malnutrition and other health problems, including chest congestion and pneumonia.
Health experts have said that the emission of harmful gases like carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide together with particulate matter from the burning of coals in the kilns cause serious respiratory diseases like bronchitis and asthma.
Moreover, these pollutants weaken the immune system and harm people’s resistance to fight various types of infections.
Dr Mudasir, posted at Sub-district Hospital, DH Khansahab, is a chest physician. Speaking to Kashmir Reader, he said there is a substance found in smoke called poly aromatic hydrocarbon that causes vomiting, diarrohea, eye irritation, nausea and disorientation and may in the long run also cause renal disease and even eye cancer.