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‘Invisible’ Women Brick-kiln Workers in Punjab Demand Their Rights

Women brick-kin workers in Punjab are demanding equal pay and accomodation

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Hundreds of women brick-kiln workers from India’s Punjab state have come together in a rare gathering to demand equal pay and better accommodation, as the country’s often invisible women laborers become increasingly vocal in their fight for rights.

More than a thousand workers, most belonging to India’s so-called lower castes and tribes, met in the city of Bathinda last week in perhaps the first such gathering in the country.

The women workers in brick kilns are invisible — they are not recognized as workers, they don’t get paid for their work, and they have no rights or benefits,” said Gangambika Sekhar, an advocate with Volunteers for Social Justice, that organized the event.

“We wanted to send a message to the government: ‘you say there are no women workers in the state’s brick kilns. Well, here they are’,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Unknown number of workers

There are no official figures for the number of people employed to cut, shape and bake clay-fired bricks, mostly by hand, in tens of thousands of brick kilns in India.

According to the Center for Science and Environment, at least 10 million people work in these kilns.

Exploitation of workers, many of them poor migrants from other states, is common as brickmaking is largely unregulated, experts say. Most of the workers are illiterate, paid a pittance, and held in debt bondage.

The wealthy state of Punjab is home to more than 600,000 workers in brick kilns, by some estimates. About half are women, who are not included in the kiln’s records and are not paid a separate wage from their husbands.

Many of the women workers are sexually abused, and conditions for pregnant women are particularly bad, as they do not have access to medical facilities, and are forced to work well into their pregnancy, activists say.

Women are enslaved by the patriarchal system, they are enslaved by the caste system, and they are enslaved by the minimum wage, which is such a pittance that they are forced to live in abject conditions,” said Manjit Singh, a retired professor of sociology at Panjab University.

Better conditions

A signature campaign was launched last week in Bathinda to appeal to President Pranab Mukherjee for better conditions for the state’s women brick-kiln workers. Activists are also trying to organize the women into unions, similar to efforts in Maharashtra state.

There are signs that women workers elsewhere are heeding the call to unionise and fight for their rights.

Last week, protests in the southern states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu by garment workers, mostly women, forced the government to scrap a controversial proposal to change the rule on pension withdrawals.

“Women workers – from teachers to textile workers and daily-wage workers – are so desperate, they are demanding their rights,” Singh said.

“They are learning the benefits of a collective voice, and of coming out on the streets and protesting, rather than doing so within the confines of their workplace. We will see more of this,” he said. (VOA News)

 

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Concerned Over The Rise of Drug Usage In The State: Himachal Governor

A three-day horse trade-cum-exhibition was organised before the beginning of the Lavi Fair.

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There are countless mothers who have been constantly tormented by drug-dependent adolescent children. Pixabay

Himachal Pradesh Governor Acharya Devvrat on Sunday expressed concern over the rise in drug addiction, particularly among the youth in the state, and called for concerted efforts to tackle the menace.

“Effective steps have been taken by the government and police administration, but we all need to work together in this direction,” he said at the inauguration of the centuries-old Lavi Fair in Rampur town, which was once a centre of barter trade with Tibet.

He called upon the people to promote natural farming. The state government has made a provision of Rs 25 crore to promote natural or organic farming to produce chemical-free food.

The 400-year-old Lavi Fair has undergone a sea change with the rural folk’s changing lifestyles and aspirations, resulting in a greater sale of gadgets and automobiles than traditional items such as farm implements, livestock and dry fruits.

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‘The traders from across the border have stopped coming’ Pixabay

The fair dates back to the time when Raja Kehari Singh of Rampur Bushahr state signed a treaty to promote trade with Tibet.

Rampur, 120 kilometres from state capital Shimla, was once a major trade centre as it is located on the old silk route connecting Afghanistan, Tibet and Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir.

“People have stopped buying farm implements, horses and sheep. Now, they prefer to shop luxury goods like television sets and automobiles,” trader Ishwar Goyal told IANS.

Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur will preside over the concluding session of the fair on November 14.

Another trader Deepak Negi said Rampur was a centre of trade before the 1962 India-China war.

The traders from Tibet used to bring raw wool, butter, herbs and leather products and bartered them for wheat, rice, farm implements and livestock.

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Rampur, 120 kilometres from state capital Shimla, was once a major trade centre as it is located on the old silk route connecting Afghanistan. Pixabay

“Now, the traders from across the border have stopped coming. Indian multinational companies come here to sell their products. The fair has largely lost its relevance,” he added.

A three-day horse trade-cum-exhibition was organised before the beginning of the Lavi Fair. The main attraction during the exhibition were the Chamurthi horses – an endangered species known as the ‘Ship Of the Cold Desert’. Being a surefooted animal, it is mainly used for transporting goods in the Himalayas.

Also Read: Quitting Junk Food May Cause You to Suffer Withdrawal Symptoms Similar to Drug Addition

The Chamurthi horse traces its origin to the Tibet region. In India, it’s bred in the villages of Himachal Pradesh bordering China.

The fair sees several folk artistes from Punjab and Himachal Pradesh perform. (IANS)