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Can these brick makers ever liberate themselves from bonded labor?

By Sheraz Khurram Khan
4/11/08 SARGODHA, PAKISTAN (ANS) — Buried under the weight of loans that they have been taking from their masters from time to time, the Christian bonded laborers of village no 48, some five miles from the Pakistani city of Sargodha, can barely think of breaking shackles of bonded labor.

Battling mosquitoes, they work at the brick kiln from dawn to dusk. Each of them earns some 290 Pakistani rupees a day (US$4.80). Rain is unwelcome for them as it halts work at the brick kiln. Their wages, however, are adjusted later.

Their small income was further reduced last year to 220 Pakistan rupees (US$3.6) a day, prompting them to stage a strike.

Mr. Mushtaq Gill, Chairman of the Pakistani Masihi Aman Party (Pakistan Christian Peace Loving Party) and the member of the Sargodha District Council, who accompanied ANS to see them, held talks with the concerned authorities to ensure that they were given wages as set by the labor union.

“The brick makers don’t have access to any facilities including medical and transport,” said Habib, who started working as a brick maker several years ago. Shorn of any facilities these bonded laborers can’t even get funds including death grants, dowry fund, or funds for educating their children, because the brick kiln they work at is from among several unregistered brick kiln s in the Sargodha district.

The fear of checks and balances keep the brick kiln owners from getting their brick kilns registered, but avoiding registration of the brick kilns bars the brick makers from getting funds which are meant for them.

“I feel sorry for the impoverished laborers who cannot claim funds because the brick kiln they work at is not registered,” Mushtaq Gill told ANS.

Chaudhry Sammar, a brick kiln owner, told ANS he would not mind to get his brick kiln registered, but did not put any timeline on registration.

He blamed the brick makers for staying mired in debt. “They turn to me for loans and I grant them loans with a view to help them, knowing full that they would not get it from any other quarter,” he said.

An average brick maker makes 1,000 bricks and can earn 1,800 to 2,000 Pakistani rupees (US$30 to 33) a week. “Some brick makers earn more than this,” he claimed.
Sammar’s brick kiln produces 600,000 bricks in a month with a workforce of 80.

Explaining the different phase s in brick making, he said they dig out soil and water it. The mud is then put in brick moulds. The raw bricks are then loaded onto donkey-driven carts and are set near the brick kiln for heating. “It takes a month for the bricks to come to a finished form,” he said.

The Christian brick makers were all smiles when Mr. Mushtaq Gill, the Chairman of the Pakistan Masihi Aman party, handed them gift packs which he has purchased from the local government fund.

In a rare gesture of sacrifice, Habib gave his gift pack to an orphan. “I think he deserves it more than I do,” he said.

As we were driving back to the city, Mushtaq Gill told ANS that the Christian residents of a nearby Virk Colony were without electricity. He said he had promised them that he would help them get access to electricity during the tenure of the current government