By Andrew Brady I write this article with seething outrage after a report in the Hindustan Times informed the world that a woman worker was ‘allegedly’ set on fire by a brick kiln owner in Uttar Pradesh. The reason – she had the temerity to resist a co …

By Andrew Brady

Gayatri, a brick kiln worker who was beaten up, addressing the meeting

I write this article with seething outrage after a report in the Hindustan Times informed the world that a woman worker was ‘allegedly’ set on fire by a brick kiln owner in Uttar Pradesh.

The reason – she had the temerity to resist a contractor’s sexual advances in one of India’s brick kilns. 

The woman has suffered 95 per cent burns and has been referred to hospital because of the severity of her injuries. The role of a police inspector has come firmly under the spotlight for reportedly ‘attempting to shield’ the accused after recording the woman’s statement. The inspector had misinformed his superiors that it was a ‘case of accident’ after the media was originally informed that the woman caught fire while working.

In an act of unparalleled bravery the inspector’s false reporting was exposed when the woman gave a statement of the incident at the hospital where she had the strength to brief the inspector’s superiors. The inspector in question has now been suspended and one can only speculate as to the reasons of the deliberate misreporting of the horrific incident with corruption being top of the list. The accused, who has been arrested, is described as being a serial harasser.

For two years now, USi has worked with our partners Prayas in the brick kilns of several regions of India where the brick kilns workers – predominantly migrants from poor regions – travel to find work. As a result of this work, we launched the Blood Bricks with Prayas, War on Want, Action Aid (India) and Thompsons Solicitors (Scotland) to highlight and campaign on the level of exploitation – including sexual – which is all too common place and not irregular as the authorities would have you make it.

To acknowledge the extent of abuse in the brick kilns and to report it of course is to officially concede the reality to citizens of India and in particular multi-nationals looking to invest such as Tesco and Walmart.

We are of course conscious that our work does not appear to be perceived as “India bashing” to the contrary USi has been inspired by our Indian comrades tenacity, passion and bravery as they are threatened on a daily basis by gangsters for the work that they are doing to empower workers, facilitate access to public services and to uphold human rights. There are boundless virtues of Indian culture and society but one of the country’s scourges is the exploitation that is omnipresent in the brick kilns.

The sexual abuse that women have to endure is a national disgrace which we have reported on frequently. It is a usual tactic by contractors to place male workers on long shifts and in various locations to help facilitate their predatory sexual advances on the female partners of brick kiln workers. Women are extraordinarily vulnerable in these circumstances and if they report these advances then the whole family is thrown off site with no wages and in debt, or, as we have seen this weekend set on fire for having the bravery to resist.

The world’s multinationals investing in India and the authorities must know that our Blood Bricks coalition is not temporary or time-bound: it is permanent. We will continue to build support to expose and illuminate the pain which we have heard this weekend in the brick kilns of India.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.

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