The modern day slaves
Life can never go easy and cushy for 16-year-old Komal, who could never get a chance to cross the threshold of a school. She is living in a modern world, but is a slave for life.
She works all day under the fuming sun on a brick kiln, making bricks with her mother Uzma and all other family members.
Uzma understands the fact that she is stuck to be bonded as a laborer to earn bread and butter for her family. While making bricks out of the mud, she prays that her younger daughter and son could make up to school and don’t end up like Komal working in this hellhole, but deep down inside, she has fears and qualms that this interminable episode of subjugation will continue to her descendants.
But she keeps on working even when the unremitting nagging of her husband does not stop.
These victims of forced labour cannot escape from this hell throughout their life.
Women work with their children whole day, and they are not recognized even as a registered laborer because the man in the family, whether he is crippled, abnormal or even not in the appropriate age to work, will only be the one who can collect wages of her sweat and toil.
Nasir, aged 15, used to dream of putting on a tidy uniform with a school bag on his shoulders and heading towards school while holding his father’s finger, but it could never get real for him. After the death of his father, he could never hold the books in his hands. Now he is working on a brick kiln in Sheikhupura to lend a hand to her mother in all the adversity his family is going through.
50-year-old Nusrat Bibi too has a similar story to tell as she recounts how she begged the kiln owner to sign a piece of paper on her daughter’s marriage, required for getting some loan and how he made her wait for seven long hours and never signed it.
Along with her four children, she crafts thousand bricks a day and instead of getting one thousand and one hundred rupees, the actual sum, but the kiln owner pays seven or eight hundred rupees sometimes.
The misery does not end here as these bonded laborers are brutally beaten sometimes to death or get crippled for life, if they ask for justice and raise their voice even for their basic rights.
Talking to these modern day slaves, I was recalling the brutal murder of Shama and Shahzad, who went through the hell and were burnt alive by a frantic mob in the same furnace they used to make bricks in.
Shama was pregnant at the time; both husband and wife were fallaciously indicted of profanity, five years ago. The couple was lynched by a menacing crowd in front of their three little children who still are living in the revulsion and horror of that gloomy brick kiln that ate their parents.
According to the 2018 Global Slavery Index, 3,186,000 people are confined to slavery in Pakistan. The WFF Index places Pakistan at eighth position in a list of 167 countries where the problem of human slavery is most brutal. Index says that the Government response towards the modern slavery is very poor and rated as C.
Debt bondage and bonded labor is a form of slavery which still reigns in the country. This subjugation is all about someone’s pledge of labor or services as security for the compensation of a debt and it end up as life sentence for him. A small loan for a small wedding or a hospital check turns into a long entrenched trap for the laborers bonded to become slaves in the end and serve their spiteful lords till their last breathe.
Mahar Safdar Ali, a labor rights activist in Pakistan, says that more than 30000 brick kilns are functional in Pakistan and more than 6.5 million workers have chains of modern slavery in their feet and just because of a small debt, their entire brood is also enslaved.
On every brick kiln, laborers are compelled to make ends meet under life threats. Due to the deprivation of legal entitlements, all mandatory Institutions are inept of addressing the coercion they are facing. 60 percent of brick kiln workforce is not even registered with NADRA; they do not have their national identity cards.
Syeda Ghulam Fatima, Secretary General Bonded Labor Liberation Front, mentions the fact that political commotion and hyperinflation are thrusting poor brick kiln workers into the snare of bonded labor. Life of a poor laborer has become more despondent and brutal as they are hopelessly making bricks for huge houses for so many people but they can never build a roof for them and the circumstances are getting shoddier and worst for them even in so-called Naya Pakistan.
Walking through these damp bricks, I could sense the desperation in movement of those small hands those always wanted to hold books and pen.
These individuals, these children, these old women, they surely deserve better!