Monday, March 28, 2016

G. Arora - Life and Death for Little Childen at the Brick Kilns of West Bengal

Kolkata: On February 14, Chandni Rajbanshi – three years old – was playing catch with her cousin Swapna. They raced through the Teena Brick Works in Pundaooh, in the Hooghly district of West Bengal, where their father Uday Rajbanshiwas a labourer. It was Sunday morning and most of the kiln-workers were resting.

Ten-year-old Swapna had caught up with Chandni, and lifted her in her arms, when she stepped on a plastic sheet – the lid of a furnace, which split and dropped both girls into the flames. It required a backhoe excavator to lift out their remains four hours later. All that could be found was a hip-bone. The accident might even have gone unnoticed except for another child playing nearby who saw the two girls fall.

“Had the child not witnessed that, everything would have been brushed off by lodging a missing complaint at the police station,” Uday Rajbanshi, Chandni’s father, told The Wire. “We would have lived in hope that the girls were only missing and would return to us. The endless visits to the police and the apathy of cops would have left us even more frustrated.”

When we met Uday Rajbanshi at Teena Brick Works, a few days after the accident, all he was asking for was a few thousand rupees to go home to Bihar with his wife and two other children. His co-workers said that he had lost an earning member of the family: He and his wife Soni Devi had adopted Swapna, their niece, after her own father died. She would help at work-sites by fetching water or molding the mud.

“The legal system and endless court battles is not for the poor people like us,” Uday said. “Our dreams are limited to arranging a meal a day for the family. I’d rather return home with some money to look after my children than run after justice which I know I will never get.”

A two-member district child protection team had visited the spot and reported to the district magistrate that children were working in hazardous conditions here, with no health or safety provisions. “We wrote to the administration that laws were completely violated – both for adults and children working at the kilns,” said Harik Banik, one of the team members. “We also found that children had no access to education and most of them suffered from malnutrition. The labourers were denied of gratuity and other service-related benefits.”

Soni Devi, Chandni’s mother, expanded on the allegation. “They refuse to make payment unless we use our children to expedite the work,” she said, wiping tears from here yes. “The job is seasonal, so owners want to get maximum bricks manufactured. We and our children worked like slaves, more than ten hours a day in the sun.”

The family’s apprehensions about the justice system seemed to be confirmed by the apathy of the district administration… read more: