The Brick Kilns
Photographed in four cities across the country – Mathura, Satara ,Sonagiri and Arakkonam ; the brick kilns are the centre subject of many articles and publications. Much has been written and researched about lives of the Brick Kiln workers.
The brick kilns employee roughly 23 million workers and contribute 3Bn to India’s economy every year. This industry is the building block of the real estate and corporate boom that urbanization has brought.
However, the state of brick kilns workers has not improved much over the years. These migrant workers have deplorable working conditions. Entire families including children as young as 4 years work as bonded labor. Although child labor and bonded labor is prohibited by constitution of India, some brick kilns flout these laws for profits and cheap labor.
Quoting BBC.com- ‘’ Nearby, there is a mound of coal. Woman and children squat at the edge. Most are barefoot. With ungloved fingers a woman holds down a piece of coal and smashes it with a hammer. Two children, barely four years old, their faces smeared black, break coal by hitting pieces against each other.
Children are everywhere. There are no safety equipment. Stories of illness, withheld wages and other issues are common place.”
The temperature inside the brick kiln can get extremely hot and the workers brave this heat and carry heavy load of bricks around. They work 12 -14 hours a day without any breaks. Even the children work for about 9 hours. The contractor closely watches their productivity and any attempt to escape has dire consequences.
While bonded labor is against law , workers of brick kilns get entangled into a vicious cycle of debt. Antislavery.org notes that “ Workers are provided a loan before they start work, immediately going into debt. Then they are trapped in the kiln having to work for an entire season without being paid their wages, not knowing if they have worked off their debt or not. As no records are kept, at the end of the season the brick kiln owner often decides to pay less.
Brick kiln moulders are paid per piece of brick made and usually as a family, rather than each worker paid individually per day or month, with only the male head of the family being paid, whilst women not getting get paid at all.The rate paid per piece of brick made is often below the minimum wage, and well below what a worker would earn if they were paid minimum wages on a time based system.This system of payment also encourages child labour: in order to make at least minimum wages, families get their children to help them make more bricks". This sadly continues to be a reality in most brick kilns in the country. My pictures have been clicked from year 2011 to 2018, and conditions have remained unchanged.
The working and living conditions are so dire that most kilns do not have access to running water and the sites are filled with dust and other chemicals. On average entire families live in cramped rooms of 7.6 square meters.”
Most brick kilns across have similar working conditions, although the conditions in South of India is shade better than in the rest of the country. There has been rising awareness and rightful NGO intervention against unlawful and the deplorable practices.