Zilu Dharmappa Rathod earlier used to work as labourer at a brick kiln in the town of Patan in Maharashtra's Satara district. His family has six members – three children, his wife and mother. Out of the six, three – Zilu himself, his wife and mother – used to work at a kiln. However the kiln is now closed due to the COVID-19 lockdown this year. He is left with nothing; neither food, nor money.
"During the lockdown last year, a few people came to us and give us ration which helped us survive for two months. The situation was comparatively better then. But this time, no one has come by to help. The kiln also has been closed for almost a month now. If this continues for two more weeks, we will have to resort to begging," said Zilu.
The lockdown in Maharashtra has been extended till May 31. The state government announced the decision on Thursday, May 13. In some districts, like Zilu's Satara, the lockdown is enforced very strictly since the number of COVID-19 patients is rapidly increasing in 23 districts and Satara is one of them. The situation does not look hopeful for him.
Brick-kiln workers are among the most neglected and lesser talked communities among marginalised classes in state. As they are un-organised and scattered all over, with a lack of authentic data about them. They are largely members of Scheduled Tribes and nomadic tribes. A large number of them are workers who have migrated from bordering states. Zilu is from Karnataka's Bijapur district.
Nancy Gaikwad is the president of the Jagruk Kashtakari Sanghatana, an organisation which works for brick kiln workers in the districts of Thane and Raigad. As both are under the Mumbai metropolitan region, the number of brick kiln workers here are more. These workers are mainly from Katkari tribe which hails from the Konkan region. Nancy said that the "insensitive behaviour" by the state's labour department – more than that by kiln owners – is hurting the interests of brick kiln workers.
This labour is in the real-estate industry. The labourers who work in this industry have been given the protection of law. If they are registered with the labour commission, they get the benefits of a number of schemes. But there are multiple issues why brick kiln labourers across the state have failed to register themselves.
"These labourers are mainly from tribal communities. The labour laws demand a lot of documentation which they fail to procure. Also, they need to go to the labour commissioner's office which is not close to their workplace. How will they be registered in such cases?," asked Nancy.
The state government will give rupees two thousand to registered labourers in the real estate sector. As brick kiln workers are not registered, they are deprived of this rightful money. They did not get anything in 2020 and neither will they get the amount this year.
Nanda Shyam Pawar is a brick kiln worker from Khargaon village in Rohan tehsil, Raigad district. The kiln owner gave them two thousand rupees each so that they won't leave till the kilns restart after the lockdown. The money helped Pawar survive the last month. Now, he will neither have work nor money.
"I will have to wait for 15 more days. Then, people from the village will come to us for agricultural work. But we lost an entire season like last year. The money made during April and May helps us to survive the monsoon," he said.
Brick kiln workers are an essential part of the real estate industry. Maharashtra, especially Mumbai and its suburban areas, have the most promise with the real estate industry making a lot of profit. However, workers at the bottom of the pile see no light. Those who give others homes to live in are destitute now.