Happy Diwali, IS IT?

On this auspicious day of Diwali I did like to share how certain few people choose to celebrate their Diwali. Do watch the complete documentary Happiness Behind Tragedy, if you can find it, for the true state of affairs at Sivakasi.

I know of people who travel down to Tamil Nadu from Bangalore to get good deals on crackers and brag about the “steals”. Some of the “IT” companies now provide crackers to employees also!!! I even found a nice and useful blog on Tips on buying crackers.

It’s over decade since I have burst a cracker. I gave it up as a young teenager the minute I saw a documentary on Zee News about the Child Labor @ Sivakasi (I am not sure what it will take for you). I have seen today many sites speaking of ZERO child labor and stuff. These are rather heartening but I would not allow myself the luxury still… If it is not children the workers at such factories are at great risk and the accidents do keep happening (you may choose to ignore like the many others that you see in the paper each day). The articles below will give you ample reason to retain the doubts about the industries…

The bottom line is you can always celebrate the festivals in a way that “God” if (s)he really exists would be rather pleased if we respected the environment and the safety of many. Be it Holi, Diwali, Ganesh chaturthi, or any other festivals – we could ensure our happiness is not at the expenses of such essentials… 🙂

If you have already purchased the crackers and now have second thoughts which is good – you can always pass on the same to some not so fortunate children at some children’s home… probably celebrate the festival with them and someone up above (possibly goddess Lakshmi) would surely be pleased! 🙂 One interesting way could be to get together for some common fireworks in which case the pleasure is shared and the environment spared!!!

Some other good options at the end of this Post…

An article from India today:


Rolling On

Official apathy and a rural mindset ensure that child labour continues to thrive in the cracker town of Sivakas in Tamil Nadu. INDIA TODAY Special Correspondent Arun Ram reports on the social evil.

Maari Amma squats in front of her little house in Thayilpatti village near Sivakasi with reams of text-book paper and a pencil-thick roller. Swish goes the roller down every page and before you know it, the 11-year-old has made scores of paper rolls to be sent to fireworks factories for making serial crackers. As she pauses for a moment to wipe off those beads of sweat on her forehead, she notices a colourful page which says, “A Letter to Grandpa”. But it makes no difference: Maari Amma, a Class II dropout, cannot read. Back to work, she continues to roll the paper at break-neck speed. By the end of the day, she’s made 5,000 of them, enough to earn Rs 25 for her family.
Anantha Pandiyan, 13, is a bigger bread winner for his family in Vettrilai Oorani village, some 10 km away. “He can make more than one case of Lakshmi Vedi (small cylindrical crackers) a day,” claims his proud father. What he doesn’t want to discuss, however, is his son’s studies. “Yes, he does go to school. But he is definitely better in his work than in his studies,” is all he is willing to concede. With the sulphur-aluminium-gun powder paste smeared on his hands and chest, Pandiyan displays his produce of the morning: two rings of Lakshmi Vedi.

Twenty km further, at the Virudhunagar district collectorate, a poster on the notice board asks, “Do you know a child between eight-18 years of age who has performed a brave act between January 1, 2000 and June 30, 2001? Contact: Indian Council for Child Welfare.” It’s ironical because there are thousands of them in Sivakasi, performing the despicably brave act of dealing with explosives and poisons to eek out a living, while the rest of the country enjoys a spectacular Diwali. But they simply go unnoticed.

For years now, Sivakasi has been synonymous with child labour but little has bee precise number of the children working in the fireworks sector, it is because the government figures are either “comfortably” low or there is no concerted effort to gauge the ground reality—children working from home. A survey on working children conducted by the district administration with the assistance of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) says there are 6,473 child labourers. However, sources confide that another study by the UNICEF, the report of which is yet to be made public, has put the figure at around 20,000.
Says Santha, who heads the Development Action for Women in Need (DAWN), an NGO working on issues of women and children: “A huge majority of child labour in the fireworks sector operates from homes. Parents, unmindful of the extreme risk and health hazards, advise them to stay away from schools and make crackers since a child earns not less than Rs 20 a day to keep the fire in the house burning. It is a socio-economic problem, which the authorities have failed to tackle.” Highlighting the hazards of dealing with poisonous materials like sulphur, salt peter, barium and strontium nitrates, Santha adds that her NGO has noted underdevelopment of the uterus in young girls who squat for long hours making paper rolls.

There has been much hue and cry over such issues following which major cracker manufacturers like Standard Fireworks, Sri Kaliswari Fireworks and Arasan Fireworks stopped employing children in their factories. Countering the campaign against fireworks, these companies came out with advertisements proclaiming “zero child labour.” But Sivakasi does not end with the few big players.

Smaller manufacturers running tiny factories still find children comfortable labour. “Children are available for low wages and they do not form unions to trouble the managements,” explains Muthu, an adult daily wage employee at a big factory: “That’s why they are vulnerable to the social evil. The small-time manufacturers either covertly employ them in their work sheds or send work to their houses.”

A big impediment to the eradication of child labour. With brisk work going on behind closed doors or in the backyards of these homes, even random checks have failed to keep track. A small spark from an adjacent kitchen fire is enough to ignite the stacks of firecrackers kept in thatched-roof sheds here but neither the children nor their parents are bothered.

Not that Sivakasi is an accident-free zone. It’s just that mishaps just don’t get reported. Says Santha: “At least two accidents happen in the district every month. Unless the casualties are too high, they go unnoticed.” That way, both the villagers and the police are happy because the filing a case exposes the police’s inefficiency in tracking down illegal manufacture of fireworks. In 1989, when an accident occurred in the Dawn Fireworks factory at Meenampatti village, the official figure for the casualties was put at 30. An inquiry by India Today, however, revealed that more than 300 people, including 200 children, were killed. The children never figured in the casualty list because that would have brought to light the authorities’ failure to check child labour.
This is especially true during peak Diwali season. Smaller factories, which are not allowed to store huge quantities of explosives, allow them to be smuggled to households. The average “pilferage” in such factories is as high as 20 per cent. “When a small manufacturer gets a big order,” says an employee, “it is only natural that he has to make people work from home. So we take home work and to finish as much as possible involve children as well.” The rules have it that no work should be done in factories after sunset and no electric equipment, including bulbs, should be used in the work sheds. The big factories have rules as stringent as a ban on metallic material, including watches, inside the worksheds. In contrast, children work in the nights at home with a lamp at a distance. In pyrotechnic, as the local fireworks production is called, aluminium powder is a vital ingredient. A trace of alumin spark to cause a devastating explosion. Unofficial studies show that children at work are often responsible for such accidents.

There are about 500 small and big factories in and around Sivakasi and 1.5 lakh families are dependent on the industry. Though the population of Sivakasi town is only 70,000, on a working day the town teems with about two lakh people as fireworks employees from surrounding villages come in for work. Though a good percentage of this work force comprises children, the authorities are dismissive. Virudhunagar district collector K. Gopal, for instance, insists there is only negligible child labour. “We have a system in place. There are village development officers, mandal-level officials and the police. If any illegal manufacturing takes place, it cannot escape the eyes of all these people. Since we have no reports of illegal manufacture of fireworks, we have to believe that there is no such thing.”
Here lies the hitch. Accidents that officials speak of are not accidents that take place in the villages. There is a central government official posted in Sivakasi—the deputy chief controller of explosives. “I am here to monitor the industry as per the law. And my briefing does not speak about illegal fireworks manufacturing. I have to see if the standards are met in licensed fireworks factories. Only when the district authorities ask me to inquire into any accident, I do,” admits the incumbent, A Subba Rao. With such official apathy, child labour in Sivakasi cannot be wished away in a hurry.

Think of these kids when sparklers light up Diwali sky
Sivakasi (Tamil Nadu) | November 05, 2007 2:05:07 PM IST

Every time a sparkler lights up the sky during Diwali festivities, spare a thought for Karuppuswamy, Chitra and Muneeswari – three of the nearly 100,000 children toiling away in Sivakasi’s fireworks and match industry.

The three children feature in a 25-minute documentary film, “Tragedy Buried in Happiness”, shot by South Korean broadcaster Taegu Broadcasting Corp in August with the help of Manitham, a rights NGO working with children, Unicef, Amnesty International and the National Confederation of Human Rights.

No volunteer of the National Rural Health Mission ever visits 12-year-old Chitra, who has been confined for four years within the walls of her tiny room – ever since the child, a rank holder in her school, got burnt while making crackers in the town, 650 km south of the state capital Chennai.

Today Chitra cowers before visitors, drawing up a grey sheet to cover her burnt body and her half burnt face. Her eloquent eyes speak to Hyuk Soo Seo’s camera and say all that she does not tell.

Chitra’s mother is reluctant to admit how much she was paid, what was the name of the unit where the accident took place. She only complains that it would have cost Rs.200,000 for the child’s plastic surgery and that no one has helped her daughter.

Karuppusamy, 14, sits in an alley, surrounded by his siblings, stuffing gunpowder into holding trays for crackers. His hands and face are shrivelled. Asked if he feels pain, he says, “No.”

Muneeswari’s hands are yellow; no, not due to henna. “The gum that the children in her work group use contains cyanide, which stains every hand that contributes to this industry,” said G. Subramanian, executive director, Manitham.

On camera, Muneeswari, 12, says she gets Rs.100 per week for eight to 12 hours of work every day. Her earnings help her parents feed her siblings.

Manitham activists say there are about 100,000 children working in the narrow bylanes of Sivakasi, about 650 km south of Chennai and home to the fireworks and matchstick industry, employing 50,000 people.

“There is a ray of hope,” said rights activist and advocate Ajeetha B.S.

“We are beginning to notice a slight shift in the ages of the child labourers. A few years ago we found 10-year-olds working in these factories, now we find the children a little older, about 13-14,” Ajeetha told IANS here.

Another activist, not wishing to be named, added: “What is happening in India today is exploitation of child labour, be it in the firework industry or in the farms. The issue is not poor working conditions, it is exploitation of children.”

India is estimated to have nearly 125 million child workers, 80 percent of them in rural areas.

Appreciating the documentary, noted lawyer and rights activist Sudha Ramalingam said: “We have been fighting to end child labour for more than two decades. The film is a shocking revelation of what still goes on.”

But making the film was not easy. Subramanian said, “No Indian NGO or filmmaker was ready to shoot the film. We were, therefore, forced to go to filmmakers from Korea.” The documentary is in Korean, dubbed into Tamil and English.

(Papri Sri Raman can be contacted at paprisri.r@ians.in)


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Mayank Rungta

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