Life on the edges-II
Ruchika M. Khanna
Tribune News Service
Hoshiarpur, September 25
The affluence of brick kiln owners looks rather obscene when compared to the drudgery of workers, who slog it out for a paltry sum, paid to them only after four months of hard labour.
Trafficked into Punjab from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, hundreds of migrant labourers employed in the 2800-odd brick kilns in the state do not get their daily wages.
Brought from their villages after being paid an advance of Rs 1000 to Rs 2500 (to repay the loans they might have taken), these labourers, including women and children, are paid their full wages only after they have worked for an entire season that the kiln is in operation, which is usually for four months.
What is paid to them is just kharcha- paani (subsistence money) of Rs 500 every fortnight, while the remaining amount is paid to them only after the season is over.
Interestingly, the brick kiln owners justify this system of payment on the ground that this ensures that the labourers do not leave the work mid-way at the kiln.
There is no concept of minimum daily wages in these brick kilns as the owners claim that it is a piece-rated labour work. For every thousand bricks moulded, about Rs 210 is paid. It does not matter whether one, two or three persons have made these pieces.
Similarly, Rs 61 per 1000 bricks is the rate fixed for baking the bricks in the kiln and taking them out. Though the prices of bricks in the state have been rising exponentially, this seems to have made no impact on the living conditions of labourers employed here.
“Most of the kiln owners have not provided shelter for the labourers and they are forced to stay in the fields or rent a room in the village.
“Because of poverty and the migratory nature of their work, children of these labourers cannot go to school, so they, too, help the parents in brick-moulding and none of the statutory working conditions are provided for,” says Mr Tarsem Jodha, a former MLA, who now heads the Lal Jhanda Punjab Patha Mazdoor Union, which has helped free many labourers
Ram Asre, a migrant from Kurara village in Hamirpur, Uttar Pradesh, who along with his family of five are currently employed at a brick kiln in village Beedru near Garh Shankar, was brought here by a fellow villager, who is now a jaamadar at the kiln.
“Gokul, the jaamadar (local parlance for labour manager) is paid Rs 60,000 each season to hire labour (about 20 persons) from different villages in Uttar Pradesh. I have a one-acre land in the village, but had to pay a loan of Rs 3500. So I agreed to come here after Gokul repaid my loan.
“Now, all of us work here for almost 18 hours a day, and we also have to pay a commission of Rs 10 a day to Gokul, because he got us work,” he rues.
So while labourers like him continue to toil, it is only the jaamadars who are making money by exploiting their own kin/ villagers.
Mala Ram, who works as a jaamadar at a brick kiln in Jatpur village here, earns about Rs 4000 a month as commission, besides a salary he gets from the brick kiln owner.
“Before the onset of the brick kiln season, I go to my village in Rajasthan and get people for work here. If I demand a commission from the labourers, I am not doing anything wrong. After all, I am the one who is providing them employment, and taking their responsibility,” he justifies.
Shivain Singh of Burra village in Madhya Pradesh, who gets labour from his native state to village Nurpur near Raekot in Ludhiana, justifies the trafficking of people here on the pretext that at least here each labourer is getting Rs 60 to Rs 70 a day. “In their own villages, they get just Rs 25 to Rs 40 a day as wages for a whole day’s work,” he says.
To be continued