Brick-Kilns: The Other Side Of The Story
Today I saw a pamphlet through which a political party was inviting people to gather for a march against the government for its policies and the high inflation. On that pamphlet I saw some pictures representing poor people – brick-kiln and construction workers as well as beggars. Now to divert your attention to the problem that came to my mind when I saw that leaflet. It is about the brick-kiln workers.
There are tale and accounts known around the world that the brick-kiln workers are forced to work, they are beaten, their children are forced to make bricks rather than going to school, they are not allowed to work freely and also that they are intentionally burdened with the high loans so that they may not leave. This side of story is known and heard by everyone all over the world. On every year on May 1, these stories are repeated by the media houses. They have become the symbol of being oppressed, abused, distressed, enslaved, exploited, helpless, persecuted, tormented and tyrannised.
Now I want to redirect your thoughts towards the story that I know, which has never been told. I have some friends who are the brick-kiln owners. And the story that they tell is, believe me, totally different. So let’s begin.
When I talk to my friends and ask them about their business, they are always in some trouble with respect to those symbols of being mistreated and suppressed. They tell me that actually, it is the owners of the kilns who are been tortured and that they are the ones who have been oppressed for years.
One of them told me that a group of labourers just ran away with his money and the total amount is not less than 1.4 million rupees which was given to them as a loan. Before leaving a kiln, they have to pay back the loan. That is just one of such stories that I heard that day. As I talked to other owners, they had the same stories but with varying amount of money.
One of the stories that I am quite familiar with is that a friend of mine brought in some new workers. They had a combined loan of 1.4 million rupees. And after working for only one week for him, they accused him for making them work under harsh conditions. They secretly put up the case in front of the judge in Lahore and he, in return, ordered the police to free them from the kiln. And the owner could not do a thing to stop them. Even the case was wrongly put forth in front of the honourable judge, as they stated that they were working for him for four weeks but in reality they only worked for one week. This not only cost him the money but threw him backwards due to lack of work force.
This is just one of the stories; each and every owner of the brick kiln has its own tale of people running away with the money. It is just normal to hear that someone ran away without paying back the loan that they took from the owners. It is normal to hear that they took 0.3 million or 0.2 or 0.4 million and ran away. I also heard that sometimes they would also chain themselves and then call upon the police and NGO to free them. There are no such laws against these people who run away.
The owners are also accused of promoting child labour but when I was there I also saw some children in uniforms coming home from school. When asked, I came to know that they were the children of the workers at the kiln. I remember that after coming home from school, I would help my parents, even doing some household chores. Does that count as child labour?
The workers are provided shelter, electricity and beds for some of them and wood for running the kitchen.
After all the owners are the one who are the tyrants, the dictators, the oppressors and the unjust or are they?
I hope that after reading this, you may have an itch in your mind to know the truth, the real nature and the situation of the workers and the owners of the brick-kilns.
The writer is a student of BS Mass Communication at University of Sargodha