Kashmir: ‘Owners treat us like donkeys’

Views from Srinagar

Baseera Rafiqi

IT is said that children are the samplings of the future and need to be nurtured well in order to have a future that everyone desires to live in.
A society is said to be ailing when its next breed falls prey to trials and tribulations, it can change the direction of growth, provided things are mend at the proper time. These young minds need proper care, education, love, and right guidance to make them responsible citizens of the future, but if anything goes wrong the whole pile of cards may fall off and crumble our future.
A young boy of 14, Khalid works hard in a brick kiln just to earn bread and butter for his family. Belonging to a very remote village of Budgam, Khalid travels 45 kilometers daily by foot and bus to reach to the main town of Budgam before the dawn breaks in. This has been his routine for two years now.
“My father is a Bakarwaal, my mother is sick and there is no one who could earn and feed our family. I earn 200 rupees per day and with that I buy food and medicine,” says Khalid, sweating and sitting under a tree outside the kiln in Dreygam .
He starts his day early and works hard to make his ends meet. This brick kiln is just outside a school, while Khalid eats his lunch he watches students play mostly of his age.
“I loved going to school but then my father developed back problem. He got bed ridden. My mother also was diagnosed with tuberculosis. My sisters handled the household chorus. Someone had to earn and bring in the money,” he says.
He works hard as he knows his family is banking only on him and he cannot falter in his duties but on the other hand he hopes to see a future less hard than this one.
I wish to attend classes again. He says, “When my father gets fit and my mother gets little better I will join my school again. I don’t like it here. Owners treat us like donkeys,” added Khalid.
Khalid is not the only child working in these brick kilns. There are many more as no one has the actual count. Owners of these brick kilns deny that they employee young children, but the fact is there are so many children working throughout the day in these kilns.
District Budgam has more than 100 brick kilns in and around the main town which is not only the main source of employment to people but far off people as well.
Every years young men come from remote areas to earn their livelihood from these brick kilns and there are children too who seek jobs. This trend has been kicking off in past few years as more and more young children are coming to earn in these kilns.
The main reason for children to join these kilns is sheer poverty, and illiteracy. Ramzan Khan, 23, when he came here six years ago he was a kid who was brought here by some broker in lieu of job and dumped him here.
“I was told that I would have to work in a house, and maintain it, so my parents agreed. But when I came here there was nothing like what the broker had said. I started working and earned. When I went home after a week my family was happy to see the much needed money. I couldn’t tell them the truth, so it continues to be like that, they still think that I am working at somebody’s house as a caretaker,” narrates Ramzan who works in a kiln at Khag, Budgam.
Leaving there education, family and dreams behind these young boys are joining the race of life and that too at a very tender age. It has a severe effect on the society, their health and on future.
“I see this trend growing. These kiln owners buy or bring boys from remote areas and exploit them as per their needs. First, it is cheap labour and second these young children have no idea how they are being robbed of their childhood,” says Ghulam Kadir an elderly person sitting at the bank of a stream outside a kiln in Soibugh, Budgam.
However, the owners deny the claims of any child labour or violation of laws at their kilns. “I have got workers from outside Jammu Kashmir. They come with their families, and the whole family works in the same kiln. Their children are just playing around, I don’t employee children at all,” claims Abdul Gani, owner of a kiln at Soibugh Budgam.
Familial pressures and abject poverty forces these children to work in conditions that are unacceptable. These kilns are generally polluted, emit at lot of smoke all the time, dust keeps on flowing around and the congestion, work load is too much for even an adult, not to speak of children.
“The kind of air inside these kilns is not suitable for children as their lungs are too young to breath in such amount of dust, toxic substances. If this kind of exposure is persistent then these children come up with complains of chest pain, breathlessness, skin allergies and in worst case scenario respiratory tract infections for life. It not only affects children physically but it leaves scar on their minds forever, the reason that they are often abused, exposed to evils and over burdened and hence these kind of kids are at more risk of becoming drug addicts, thieves and vagrants in future,” says Dr Gowhar Khan, a children specialist.
If the number of children joining kilns increases with the same rate then the future is very bleak for us. “If we ask the labour department about the statistics they would say its zero, but the fact that children work as labourers just outside this department right under their noses is a real irony, but they tend to ignore it,” opines Dr Sofia, Sociologist.
Children have been working in high risk sectors and no precautionary measures are being taken by the owners or the employers to ensure their safety.
“See when we talk about child labour we measure it in three different parameters, protection, survival and participation. We have to look into risk and accidental situations that arise when your employee is a child. These things are generally ignored in our society. As a society we need to keep a check on these things to ensure a future where children can live, learn and play freely, for a happier tomorrow,” she added.
According to the statistics available with the labour department Budgam, there are 72 registered brick kilns and the unregistered number is up to 150.
“Only 72 kilns are registered with us, rest are unregistered. We have issue a notice to all of these kilns to get licenses from us else there kilns will be closed down. We have also asked them to give us a details about their laborers, so that we can ascertain whether they are employing children or not,” said Hilal Ahmad Bhat, Assistant Labour Commissioner Budgam.
“We do a regular inspection of these kilns but I don’t deny the fact that child work in there, and to check on this we recently have devised a District level Society involving various other departments. Its main aim will be to track child labour, see if labour laws are implemented, prosecute employer who has children as their employee,” he added.

—Courtesy: RK
[Author is media fellow with SAVE the Children and can be mailed at rafiqibaseera@gmail.com].

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