Every year, between 10 million and 23 million workers migrate to work in 144,000 brick kilns operating across India. These workers typically take advances from contractors and spend months carrying out gruelling physical work to pay them off, in what is essentially a system of bonded labour.
If this system wasn’t punishing enough, recent years have seen the workers’ suffering intensified by a new problem: heatwaves. According to a May 2022 study, the likelihood of heatwaves occurring in India has increased by 30 times since the pre-industrial era. This puts the health of kiln workers at grave risk, especially considering that kilns themselves burn at temperatures in excess of 1000 degrees Centigrade.
For Common Ground, Shreya Raman travelled to Rajasthan to report on the damage that this heat exposure is doing to brick kiln workers, who are trapped in the occupation because of their heavy financial debts. “The story made me realise the lack of equity in our climate change coverage,” Raman said. “The greatest focus is on air pollution and floods in cities, while those who have limited infrastructure to adapt and survive are neglected, though they are the most likely to face the gravest impacts of climate change.”
She added, “It brought up questions in my mind of what the meaning of survival is in a climate-change world.”
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