Skip to main content

Migrant worker dies; bick kiln owner 'didn't want him die' at worksite

By Bharat Dogra* 

On an extremely hot afternoon of May 22 people saw a pathetic scene near Gwalior railway station. A woman with three small children was standing near a rickshaw and weeping loudly. On the rickshaw was spread the body of a very weak man who appeared to be dead.
A number of persons gathered around her and as it was confirmed that there was no trace of life left in the body on the rickshaw, the woman cried out even louder and seeing her weeping the children also started crying. Inquiries revealed that the dead body was that of Om Prakash, a migrant brick kiln worker from Banda district who was the husband of this woman Premkali. 
He had fallen seriously ill while working in the kiln. When he did not recover for several days and when his condition deteriorated on this day, the brick kiln owners asked him to leave the kiln as they did not want him to die at the worksite. 
Premkali did not have anyone to help her in this difficult situation, but she showed a lot of courage and determination in somehow arranging a rickshaw to reach Gwalior railway station. She was completely helpless and without any funds to arrange to take the body of her husband to their village.
It was at this stage that the station master and a few police officials showed a lot of kindness. They consoled her and arranged an ambulance to take the body to the village and also gave a little cash to Premkali.
About two weeks later this writer visited the dalit hamlet of this village -- Mohatra village of Naraini block --  where Premkali lives now. This is a village inhabited predominantly by Dalits. They are either entirely landless or else have very small plots of land. There are very few livelihood options in the village. These days even when villagers get some daily wage work, the extremely hot weather makes them extremely weak and exhausted. 
NREGA work or work under rural employment scheme is very rare. It is in these conditions that they accept the offer of a lump sum payment from labour contractors and leave for work in brick kilns in various places.
Premkali says that last October her husband accepted an advance payment of Rs. 5000 and then left for Gwalior with her and their three children.
She says that she and her husband toiled day and night in the kiln. Living conditions were poor. 
According to information provided by various workers, the going rate is Rs. 650 for 1000 bricks and it is expected that by working day and night a couple can earn around Rs. 1000 in a day, but the actual payment is made after deducting advances given for food, medicine, payment before arrival etc. 
Even after providing for all this, Premkali should have received a significant sum of money at the time of departure but in fact she was told that as the accounts show a minus payment, it is she and her husband who have to make a payment before leaving the kiln. 
So when Om Prakash was ill a telephone message reached his mother that they have to arrange to send a payment to the kiln owner or manager and only then her son can return. So she went around trying to collect this payment for sending but the money could not be collected due to the precarious condition of various neighbours as well.
So when Premkali started from the brick kiln with her husband close to death and three small children, she did not have any money worth the name with her.
Entire life of workers migrating to brick kilns becomes an unending agony of going on making bricks in all their waking hours
One close relative had earlier lost his life soon after returning from a brick kiln. Lav-kush, brother of Om Prakash, had been going to a brick kiln for several years but then he became a victim of tuberculosis disease, he says. He has a strong feeling that this disease is related to his work. This may well be an occupational disease with symptoms closer to those of TB.
People here say that among the Dalit households of this village a majority go to brick kilns and in some neighbouring villages like Kairi and Jwahra the percentage may be even higher. The entire life of the workers migrating to brick kilns becomes an unending agony of going on making bricks in all their waking hours.
Meanwhile the prospects ahead for Premkali are very grim. She has hardly any livelihood support but has to bring up three children. All the three children are very weak and suffering from very poor nutrition conditions. The labour contractor has paid her a small amount asking her not to make any complaint and also said that if she does not make any complaint then he may give some more money her, but even if he does, all this will be very inadequate for the family’s needs. 
A voluntary organization Vidya Dham Samiti is also helping the family within its limited capacity. It has also taken up other such cases of extreme injustice. In one such case a brick kiln worker of Neebhi village was not paid his dues worth over Rs. 200,000 and when all his efforts to receive these dues failed, he committed suicide.
Such victims of injustice should receive prompt help from the labour department so that justice for them can be secured before any extreme tragedy takes place.
*Honorary convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. Books: “Protecting Earth for Children”, “When the Two Streams Met”, “Man over Machine” 



Lip-service on World Environment Day vs 'watered-down' eco-safeguards

By Shankar Sharma*  Just a few days ago, the world remembered the routinely forgotten global environment on the occasion of World Environment Day, briefly though, maybe just for the day. There were reports of a few high profile ceremonies in different parts of the country, including a few in New Delhi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly asked the people of our country to plant one tree per each person as a mark of respect/ gratitude for our mothers.

New Odia CM's tribal heritage 'sets him apart' from Hindutva Brahminical norms

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*  Mohan Charan Majhi took the oath as the new Chief Minister of Odisha following the electoral defeat of the BJD led by Naveen Patnaik, who served as Chief Minister for twenty-four years. The new Chief Minister is the son of a security guard and a four-time MLA who hails from the remote village of Raikala in the Keonjhar district. He belongs to the Santali tribe and comes from a working-class family. Such achievements and political mobilities are possible only in a democratic society. Majhi’s leadership even in the form of symbolic representation in a democracy deserves celebration.

Pellet gun fire severely injures Dalit worker off Bangladesh border

By Kirity Roy*  This is regarding an incident of firing pellets by the Border Security Force (BSF) personnel attached with Panchadoji Border Outpost of ‘E’ Company of 90 BSF Battalion on a Schedule Caste youth of village Parmananda under Dinhata Police Station of Cooch Behar district of West Bengal. The victim was severely injured and one portion of his face became disfigured due to pellet firing by the BSF.

Sanction to persecute Arundhati Roy under UAPA politically motivated: PUCL

Counterview Network  Top human rights group, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, has demanded that the authorities should immediately withdraw the prosecution against top author Arundhati Roy and Dr Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a Kashmir academic, under the " unconstitutional"  Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act  (UAPA), calling the Delhi  Lieutenant-Governor nod for the Delhi police move "politically motivated".

What stops Kavach? Why no time to focus on common trains meant for common people?

By Atanu Roy  A goods train rammed into Kanchenjunga Express on 17th June morning in North Bengal. This could have been averted if the time tested anti-collision system (Kavach) was in place. 

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.