There was a heart-rending incident recently at a brick kiln at Chandrapur on the outskirts of Guwahati. A laborer and his wife were hard at work. Since they could not leave their two-year-old son alone in their shack, they had brought him along to play with other children at the kiln. The child was crawling about nearby when all at once he was scooped up along with large clods of soil by an excavator and dumped into a pit. Before the parents and other laborers knew what was happening, the child had already been buried alive. When the mother looked for her child and found him missing, she raised a hue and cry. Soon the child was dug out from the pit, but by then, it was too late. The driver of the excavator promptly made good his escape. Shockingly, the owner of the brick kiln tried to cover up the incident when the father went to lodge a complaint to the police. Should he not have stood up for his worker crushed by such a terrible misfortune? This is the lot of most workers in the unorganized sector, slaving away in numerous small enterprises across the State. They are underpaid, work punishingly long hours in sub-human conditions with non-existent facilities. The exploitation is more severe in enterprises like brick kilns, many of which are uuthorized. The work being seasol, most laborer families keep migrating in search of employment and are thus vulnerable to exploitation. Entire families are housed in tiny shacks and put to work like bonded laborers. What is more, women and children make up most of this labor force. Imagine the plight of a woman laborer, taking time off with no health and maternity benefits to give birth to her child, and returning to her work hastily before her body has healed because she needs the money desperately. Even without dangerous machines like excavators nearby, a brick kiln is an unhealthy place for a tiny tot to grow up. Without safe drinking water and sanitation, they are prone to frequent diarrhoea, high fevers, skin diseases and breathing problems. Government welfare schemes like immunization, nutrition and primary education do not reach them. The vicious cycle is complete when these children are put to work by brick kiln owners. Unschooled and unskilled, they form the next generation of laborers so disrespected by this labor intensive industry.
Food for thought