Saturday July 21, 2018
Home India ‘Invisi...

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

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

0
//
83
Image source: voanews
Republish
Reprint

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)

 

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2016 NewsGram

Next Story

Punjab’s Aam Aadmi Party and Its Political Self Goals

Each one of the top leaders in the AAP Punjab unit is on its own journey

0
Punjab's Aam Aadmi Party Is In Confusion, Due To Political Self Goals
Punjab's Aam Aadmi Party Is In Confusion, Due To Political Self Goals, Flickr

For a political party that was taking a serious shot at coming to power in Punjab less than two years ago, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) appears to have gone wayward.

Despite the electorate in Punjab reposing trust in the party by making it the principal opposition in the first ever assembly polls that it contested in February last year, the party leadership in Punjab and in Delhi have brought it to a new political low with a series of flip-flops and self-goals.

The AAP, which has 20 seats in the 117-member state assembly, relegated the formidable political alliance of the Shiromani Akali Dal and BJP to a humiliating third slot but is fast losing its votebank in the state.

In recent by-elections, be it for Lok Sabha or assembly seats, the AAP candidates have not only fared badly but had to face humiliation by even losing their security deposits.

In the Shahkot assembly seat bypoll last month, the AAP candidate got a mere 1,900 votes.

Each one of the top leaders in the AAP Punjab unit is on its own journey while the Delhi leadership of the party, including AAP national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Punjab in-charge Manish Sisodia, show wariness, indifference and even suspicion about the Punjab leaders.

Senior AAP leader and Leader of Opposition in the state assembly Sukhpal Singh Khaira is known to shoot off his mouth on every matter. His recent comments justifying the ‘Referendum 2020’ propped up by foreign-based radical elements who are demanding a separate Sikh homeland, or Khalistan, has sparked a new controversy for him and the AAP.

Khaira, a former Congressman, has left the party embarrassed on earlier occasions as well.

Just about two years back, the AAP was riding high on popularity in Punjab and many believed it was all set to form its first full-fledged state government.

That was not to be Kejriwal and his core group of leaders seem to have lost interest in Punjab affairs for now. Kejriwal’s apology to senior Akali Dal leader and former cabinet minister Bikram Singh Majithia earlier this year, which happened without even consulting the Punjab leadership of the party, led to resignations within the party with the cadres on the ground feeling disappointed.

AAP has scrapped the list of its Donors, leading to its own volunteers launching a Chanda Bandh Satyagraha against their own party.
AAP has scrapped the list of its Donors, leading to its own volunteers launching a Chanda Bandh Satyagraha against their own party.

AAP Punjab unit president and MP Bhagwant Mann, who has had his own string of controversies earlier, and co-president Aman Arora, resigned from their posts after Kejriwal’s sudden apology.

Kejriwal and other AAP leaders, in the run-up to the 2017 assembly polls, had openly accused Majithia of patronising the drugs mafia in Punjab. They even called him a “drug lord”.

When Majithia went to court in a defamation case against the AAP leadership, the Delhi leaders chickened out and Kejriwal wrote an apology letter to Majithia.

Offering apologies and doing voluntary service (kar seva) to atone for political sins is nothing new for AAP leaders.

The ‘Youth Manifesto’ of AAP, released before the assembly polls, carried a photograph of ‘Harmandir Sahib’, the holiest and most revered Sikh shrine of Sikh religion, with an image of a broom, the AAP’s party symbol. This led to a religious uproar in Sikh dominated Punjab.

Kejriwal and other leaders washed utensils at the Golden Temple complex to “atone” for the political and religious faus pax.

AAP leader Ashish Khetan compared the same manifesto to religious scriptures like Granth Sahib, the Bible and the Gita. The AAP had to again seek forgiveness for this.

The AAP’s stand on sharing of river waters varies in Delhi and Punjab, leaving the party embarrassed at times.

Chanda Bandh Satyagraha back in Delhi after successful Campaign in Punjab, Feb 24th 2017
Chanda Bandh Satyagraha back in Delhi after successful Campaign in Punjab, Feb 24th 2017

The electorate in Punjab, which gave four seats to AAP (out of 13 Lok Sabha seats), has been left disaapointed. Two of the AAP MPs continue to be suspended from the party for the last three years.

Also read: Dogfight in Aam Aadmi Party : The audio clip of Kumar Vishwas reveals the party is no longer for principles but for personal aspirations

If AAP is to revive its position in Punjab, its leadership — in Punjab and in Delhi — would have to take drastic steps to stop the erosion of its base. Otherwise, the party would end up being a one-time wonder. (IANS)