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Reality of migrants inside Kashmir's brick kilns

Pulwama brick kiln; Krishna's parents migrated to Kashmir, from West Bengal, they migrated from their village to work in a brick kiln.

By Wahid Bhat
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Inside Pulwama Brick kilns Ground Report

Inside Pulwama's Brick Kiln Industry | Ground Report | Ukhoo Kakapora area in south Kashmir | Krishna's parents migrated to Kashmir, from West Bengal. They migrated from their village to work in a brick kiln. It was the first time that 8-year-old Krishna had moved from his village to a completely new place. It was poverty and lack of land that forced his family into this unregulated sector in conditions that can only be described as tragically derelict.

The children of workers, who toil in brick kilns far from their hometowns to earn a living in Kashmir, spend their time without access to primary education and other basic facilities. Workers earn less and find it hard to get by without the hope of educating their children.

Inside Pulwama's Brick Kiln Industry children affected

Sanjay Krishna's father said that they could not leave the children alone in the village, since almost the entire village migrates. Although Krishna was studying in Class 2 in his village at the time, he had to join his parents to help them with the oven, as well as take care of his 3-year-old brother. When Krishna's parents immigrated to Pulwama, they knew he would miss school. Although they understood the importance of education.

Another 28-year-old worker from West Bengal, Ilyas Ahmad, said his two children and his wife have come with him to Pulwama. "But where he works, there are no facilities like schools or the Anangwadi center for his children, who are still very young," he said.

"All the little children live with us and play inside the kilns, which have no facilities for children to read and write," said Ilyas, who has been working on the kiln for the past five years.

He said,

"Brick workers are regularly swindled out of promised wages and he argues that hiring and payment systems are at the heart of exploitative practices. They are then trapped in the oven and have to work for a whole season without being paid their salary, not knowing if they have paid their debt or not. As records are not kept, at the end of the season the brickyard owner often decides to pay less".

Inside Pulwama's Brick Kiln Industry Labour conditions

“We work between 12 and 16 hours a day. You can't stay away from work even when you're not feeling well. If you are overwhelmed by fatigue, you cannot slow down. In such cases, you will be abused verbally and sometimes physically as well,” says Qasam, another brick worker.

The children of indentured brick kiln workers remain trapped in the cycle of poverty and illiteracy as they are unable to obtain an education while their parents have migrated to the brick kilns to work.

Families remain in a cycle of bonded labour, with loans taken for essential items from brick kiln owners being passed down from generation to generation. The pressure to repay the loan quickly leads to a high prevalence of child labour, as more hands mean more bricks made and each brick slowly reduces debt.

According to anti-slavery International, brick factory workers are regularly cheated out of promised wages and argue that hiring and payment systems are at the heart of exploitative practices.

Inside Pulwama's Brick Kiln Industry harmful environment
  • Children make up a third of the total population in brick kilns.
  • 65 to 80% of children between the ages of five to fourteen reported working in brick kilns.
  • They work an average of nine hours a day in the summer months and seven hours a day in winter.
  • 100% of older children interviewed (over the age of fourteen) reported working at the kiln.
  • Children in this age group work on average 12 hours a day in the summer months and 10 hours a day during the winter months.
  • Work in the brick kilns for children would be considered a ‘worst form of child labour under international law.
  • 77% of workers reported not having access to primary education for their children between 5-13 years of age.
  • 84% of workers were paid a different rate to what had been agreed/promised at the beginning of the season.
  • Workers reported on average fourteen hours a day in the summer months and 11 hours a day in the winter months.
  • 100% of brick moulders were from traditionally marginalised classes and castes.
  • None of the women workers receives wages. Wages are paid to the male head of the household for the whole family. Women are not formally registered as workers and cannot access related employment benefits.
  • 33% of workers reported being paid less than the minimum wage for 1000 bricks. From those workers who thought they’d been paid a minimum wage, the vast majority did not know what the minimum wage rate was.
  • The workers never are paid overtime, despite routinely working 5 hours over the daily legal limit.
Harmful environment:
  • 87.72% of the kilns surveyed have access only to untreated groundwater as drinking water, much of it polluted and sometimes not safe for drinking.
  • 75.8% of all toilet facilities had no water provided to them at all.
  • Worksites has a large amount of dust and other chemicals present.
  • Living conditions can be cramped, with average housing dimensions for entire families being 7.6 square meters. By law, it’s required to be minimum 10 sq. meters.
  • Schools are physically inaccessible. On average, it would take 40 minutes for children to walk to the nearest school.

In recent years, and especially after the signing of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, India has received much criticism for its levels of coal consumption. According to official statistics, the Indian brick industry consumes approximately 35 million tons of coal per year and is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Will the green option be an improvement for workers in the brick industry in India?

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