The child labourers of Drangbal

Chiseling stones by choice or forced by circumstances?



Sajad Ahmad Dar, a 14-year-old boy, sits all day long under an open corrugated tin-shed in Drangbal, Baramulla, chiseling jagged rocks, one after another. He continues to hammer the rocks till he polishes one. Wiping the sweat off his forehead, he takes a gulp of water and then starts doing it again.
A school dropout, Sajad Ahmad Dar has been chiseling stones for years now at a stone chiseling unit in his native village. Every day, when the other children leave for school, he enters the tin shed, unpacks the backpack, takes out a hammer and starts polishing jagged rocks.
“I am here by choice,” he says. The boy was hesitant to speak more about why he was working at the stone chiseling unit at a time when he should be in school. Sajad dropped out of school in 8th standard. Now he earns around Rs 1500 per month. “Whatever little I earn I contribute it to my family,” he says. “I don’t like to be in school.”
The tin shed where Sajad works in an uneven space with rocks lying all around him. The sound of odd Bollywood numbers playing on a transistor nearby mixes with the hammering of rocks. Sajad didn’t want to talk about his parents. “I belong to this village and everyone knows me here,” he says while hitting a rock with a fierce thud. “I don’t want to lose my job.”
The proprietor of the stone chiseling unit says the boys have to do chiseling work because of their circumstances. “His father is ailing and there is no one to earn at his home. So the boy has dropped out in 8th class and started to work,” he says about Sajad.
“I also believe that the boy should have been in school, but there is not much one can do when there are scores of such children,” he says. “They might not be telling the reality but the children are driven to work (labour) by their circumstances.” 
Like Sajad there are over half a dozen children working in stone chiseling units of Drangbal. Barring a couple of children, all others insist that they are working out of their own choice.
Another boy, Adil, who appeared to be younger than Sajad, says he was working for the family out of his own choice. “No one asked me to go out and work. I am here by my own choice,” says the boy.
Aadil dropped out of school in 6th class. He says he wanted to study but poverty forced him to hunt for work at an early age. “It is my personal choice. Nobody asked me to work. I felt time has come for me to work and earn something for my family,” he says.
Another school dropout, 15-year-old Danish Irshad, has been chiseling stones for the past four years now. He says he started working because there was no other person to earn a living for his family. “Being the eldest son of my parents, I was expected to go out and earn for the family,” says Danish.
All the children gave different reasons for working in stone chiseling units, but what is common among all of them is that everyone works from dawn to dusk in these tin-sheds, regardless of hot or cold weather conditions outside.
The children are also reluctant to be photographed. “Please Bhaya (brother) don’t take our pictures. It would harm us,” they said.   
The local people of Drangbal say the children are forced into labour work due to poverty. “The children are driven to this labour work by poverty. The families they belong to are economically poor. They have no resources to send their wards to school, so they send them to work in stone chiseling units and earn for their family,” says Athar Ahmad, a local postgraduate student.
Athar says the children fear losing their work by being spotted. “They know what child labour means and whenever an unfamiliar face enters the village and ask them anything, they become hesitant,” he says.
There are more than two dozen stone chiseling units in Drangbal. The proprietors prefer children to work at lower prices than bringing in adults to work for them.
Every day the village wakes up to the sounds of stone chiseling that continues through the day. And among the workers who labour in these stone chiseling units are children not more than 18 years of age.

Lastupdate on : Wed, 19 Dec 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Wed, 19 Dec 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Thu, 20 Dec 2012 00:00:00 IST

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