Kasur: LEAD’s Chief Advocate Sardar Mushtaq Gill,a Human Rights Defender, came to know,the shocking incident took place on 29 January, 2014, when one Christian woman brick kiln worker, namely Ms.Salamatay Bibi 48 years age, Mr. Aziz Masih her son, Arshad Masih alias Papu, and two others, were “brutally beaten along with their families including women, and children” by local brick kiln owner and six “unknown” persons, and later were forcibly taken to Brick Kiln of Rang Baig “with the threat of weapons.”
Gill said that when he first heard of the shocking incident, he and a LEAD team rushed to the kiln, and asked people who watched the shocking incident what had occurred, and they said that the brick kiln owner and others had “beaten them with heavy clubs and sticks and hung them on the front side of wall of a house.
Mr.Gill added that after this “brutal and inhuman hitting,” the victims “became injured and cannot be able to work to earn a livelihood for their families and they are terrified and under fear.
“I have been beaten and badly tortured because some other workers of the brick kiln’s owner were run away and those are our relatives and my son also took a loan of Rs.70,000 from the brick kiln owner who also run away and they forced me to call them and to bring them back, when my husband asked the brick kiln owner that we will pay the debt loan, they demanded back with interest of Rs.3,00,000/-.they broke my nails of feet with pliers and I borne bitter pain, and I called my son and my son told the kiln owner about the other our relatives, then the kiln owner along with his men brought them back and beaten and hit them all.I have marks of hitting on my whole body” Bibi told Gill.
Mr.Gill asked how much loan had been taken by her relatives, she told the brick kiln owner demanded Rs.5,00,000/-.She added that now all were under the custody of the brick kiln owner and he would take forcibly work from them until and unless some other brick kiln owner would not pay back the said loan money and for this my husband was trying to arrange.
When Gill asked ,”would you like to register complaint in Police Station against the brick kiln owner”, she said that she wanted to take legal action against them but my son in law and husband told that they would create more problems for him and for us too if we would take any step against the brick kiln owner.
This is not the first incident, many women and girls workers reported verbally and physical sexual abuse by the owners. It was also noticed that many children were also employed in making the bricks. This whole incident once again highlights the seriousness of conditions of the brick kiln workers who are badly trapped in conditions of bondage and are facing severe exploitation in the prevailing circumstances.
“What happens is that employers, in this case the brick kiln owners, advance sums of money to the labourers to meet urgent trivial household needs, because the wages paid to the labourers are so low, the loans cannot be paid back even over many years, and the workers cannot leave the kiln as they are indebted to the owners,” told Gill.
Gill met a seven-year-old boy Akram who works up to 14 hours a day in a brick kiln in Kasur, about 60 km south of Lahore. His hands bear burn marks from placing bricks in the kiln.
“I have been doing this work since I was four. Even when I was younger, I helped my mother,” Akram told Gill, before he was pulled away by his other brother, Aslam, who said, “We don’t want any trouble and we ‘belong’ to the brick kiln owner and cannot leave this work and place.”
There are reportedly 350,000 brick kiln workers in 15,000 brick kilns across the Punjab province. The brick kiln owners do not register themselves under Employees’ Social Security Ordinance, 1965 to avoid making payment of the contribution instead of Court order. The Government of Pakistan passed the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1992, and the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Rules, 1995, which prohibit and punish bonded labour. Despite these laws, hundreds of thousands of people are engaged in bonded labour in Pakistan, the practise continues despite the fact the Supreme Court of Pakistan abolished bonded labour two decades ago .The majority of brick kiln workers are Christians.
The worst thing is that the majority of these brick kiln workers are not even registered as citizens. These workers usually move from place to place and have no identity cards, social security cards, medical benefits or any other benefits which are being enjoyed by permanent government employees.
It was quite noteworthy that the people took great personal risks to share with the LEAD team their testimonies in spite of the constant and threatening presence of the brick kiln owner and his men.
LEAD Chief, Advocate Sardar Mushtaq Gill request to all Human Rights organisations and world community should consider the dilemma of these brick kiln workers and make pressurized Pakistani government to implement the laws against the bonded labour. They are actually very defenseless and are passing their lives under the obscurity of destitution, anxiety and social remoteness.They must be empowered.