A Glance at the Workers of the Brick Kilns

May 22, 2013

by Sunil

Many stories lie buried inside the kiln.

When industries come to a place, they bring roads and markets along for transportation of goods. There exists one industry, where in the name of roads, there is an alley and a market which is 3-4 kilometers away. These are the markets where the workers go once a fortnight and buy their essential needs. We know this industry as the ‘Brick and Kiln’ industry. In a season of six months, it sees a turnover of Rs. 1.5-2 crores.

At every unit you can find almost 200-250 workers working but it is still not counted as an industrial unit. None of the labour laws are implemented in these units, making them labour-law proof! One person owns multiple units but to fool the government these units fall under different owners.

Owners have kiln associations but workers cannot form unions of any kind. The labour officer is neither interested in visiting and finding out the working conditions in these units nor finds it necessary to inform the workers about the minimum wages.

The Brick and kiln industry consists of six different stages of works: Patha, Bhrai, Beldaar, Nikasi, Jallai, Raabis (Mixing, moulding, drying and baking of clay).

The workers in this industry live under asbestos and tin roofs some 6-7 feet high. They either live alone or with their families. There is next to no interaction among the workers. They live in colonies divided as per their works. Some of them live with their families in huts made at the corners of the units while others live alone or with male members of the family at the site itself where bricks are baked called ‘Dala’.

These are heat zones where the workers work in two shifts for twelve hours each. In one of the dala, there are two tin roofed huts. One houses 8-10 Jalai workers while the other houses 4-6 Raabis workers.

Those who work together usually belong to the same village, block, caste and religion. Jalai workers, belonging to Saroj and Harijan castes, usually come from Pratapgarh district, UP. Raabis workers of Prajapati caste belong to Fatehpur district, UP. These workers are hired on monthly basis.

Most of the Pathai workers are Muslims who have come from Kunch Bihar district of West Bengal or Baagpat, Meerut or Shamli, UP. During the work season, they live with their families on the site itself. They are neither educated nor able to give education to their children. You can find workers from 10 to 70 years of age- girls, boys, men, and women. They usually work for 15-16 hours and can’t manage to sleep for more than 4-5 hours. On being asked, ‘Don’t you want to educate your children?’ they replied, ‘who would not want to give education to their children but we live in conditions where if the children don’t contribute to work then we can’t even manage to eat.’

Most of the Nikasi and Bharai workers live with their families at the site of the kiln. They get Rs. 80-100 for carrying a thousand bricks. Nikasi workers put not just their labour but also capital in their work. They need horses for the work which costs Rs. 60-80,000. They have to feed and take care of the horses out of their wages. If something happens to the horse, i.e. if it either falls sick or dies, then the worker falls into the pit of debts.

Savitri Devi, 65 years old, of Samserpur village (Rajapur Block, Gaziabad district) informed us that she does Pathai work with her son and daughter. Her husband died many years ago in a land dispute. After that she left her husband’s village and settled down in her parents’ village. She had built a hut there and works in the kiln. Her twenty year old daughter, Rani, is also working with her for a long time. Rani has developed a medical problem of body swelling. After seven months of treatment there is neither any improvement nor any money left for further treatment. While Savitri was sharing her story, simultaneously Rani was carrying clay to her brother for pathai non-stop. Savitri does not get any pension, be it the pension for widows or the pension for old age people, which is her right. Probably people like her never get any of these pensions. Her story is just one among many stories buried inside the kiln.

All the kiln workers get money for buying basic needs every fortnight and the rest of the balance is given at the end of the season (six months) i.e. at the end of the month of June. Some of the kiln owners don’t even give the wage which rightfully belongs to the workers. One of the workers working at Shahpur brick kiln said that in 2012, in a Fauji kiln unit at Bhikanpur, the owner refused to pay a lakhs of rupees owed to the workers.

In one of the Tyagi kiln at Bhikanpur, a family has been living for 8 years. They have married off their children while living at the kiln. The owner has not cleared their account for last three years. He always makes some excuses and delays the matter. Once a fight happened between the worker’s daughter and her husband. The latter went back to the village leaving his wife there. The owner forcefully took their daughter to another kiln unit and said, ‘She has taken ten thousand rupees advance from me. I will sell her to anyone who will give me Rs 10,000. Somehow the father arranged Rs 10,000 and brought his daughter back home.

The owners blame the workers for various things like running away after taking advance or for ‘falsely accusing’ them of bonded labour in court. The workers said that at times the quality of the soil is not good enough. They are not even able to earn basic wage but the owner takes no consideration. In such situations the workers have to approach the court.

For health treatments, these workers rely on quacks. Or if they fall too sick they go to government hospitals in Gaziabad and Muradnagar. If any relative falls seriously sick during the work season then they are doomed to be in debt. This indirectly benefits the owner because then the workers get tied to the same place of work next year.

Our houses are made of bricks but 90% of the brick makers have no houses. Over 90% of them have voter ID cards and they are made to cast their votes also. This sets the stage for the drama of the largest democracy in the world. 25% of them have ration cards on which all they get is 3 l of kerosene oil (that too not always). 5% workers have MNERGA cards on which very few of them get jobs and that too for 30-40 days a year. Some of them have their cards with the Pradhan while many have never got the payment for the work they have done under MNREGA.

All this is happening just a few kilometers away from the capital, Delhi. Everything from forced labour to child labour is rampant here. The images of MNREGA and Food Security shown by the government can be seen in their brutal reality over here. The labour laws have become a joke everywhere. Should we call an industry that is employing 200-300 workers and is seeing a turnover of 1.5-2.0 crores, a small scale industry?

Do these workers and their children enjoy any of the rights given in the Constitution?