Does Diwali Bring Joy to All?
With the coming of Diwali, Sivakasi Fireworks is a household name. This is the only name with a monopoly and found on the cover of any matchbox or firecracker carton in India. However, something really serious is happening in Sivakasi, a district in Tamil Nadu, for a long time now.
Every year, 90% of the crackers for Diwali come from Sivakasi. After Lui Yang, the Chinese city which is the leader in the world, Sivakasi is the next hub of the global fireworks industry.
While we burn our money behind the crackers, are we aware of those under-aged kids who are burning the best years of their lives in making fireworks?
In 2000, the Frontline Magazine in a report ‘Children still at work’ sighted the following examples:
Sumathi, 11, of Ammapatti village rolls 2,300 paper pipes a day at home for a fireworks manufacturing unit, and earns a daily wage of Rs.20. She had earlier been working for a year in a fireworks unit. She has never been to school.
Chellaiyan, 12, has been fixing fuses on to crackers in a factory at Anaikuttam village for two years now. He earns Rs.30 a day. A factory vehicle picks him up at 6.30 a.m. and drops him back at 7 p.m.
Subanna, 13, works in a shed in Tiruthangal, dyeing paper pipes and placing them in rings after they dry. He earns Rs.30-40 a day. He has been working in the shed for two years.
In October 1999, the Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers Association (TNFAMA) issued that there is no child labour anymore in the fireworks units in and around Sivakasi which is clearly not the case.
In villages across the district, children continue to work in the fireworks-making units. The 1991 Census of India put the number of child workers in Sivakasi in the 6-14 age-group at 30,000. In 1994-95, a State Government study sponsored by the United Nations Children’s Fund put the figure around 33,000 (30,000 in the match industry and the rest 3,000 in the fireworks industry.)
According to J. Lazer, Secretary of the Sivakasi Unit of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), the industry work has been outsourced to the families of the interior villages in Sivakasi where children are involved in loading flower pots, fixing the fuse, making paper pipes, filling rings, etc.
It has also been observed that in these villages working at an early age is more preferred to a formal school education. Parents consider it normal to get their children working from a tender age as it has been happening for decades.
Asthma and Tuberculosis are prevalent among 90 per cent of the workers who are involved in gunpowder filling and are directly in contact with the chemicals like suphur, aluminium powder which is used in crackers and matches.
The Fireworks industry in Sivakasi is like a battleground. Every year it reports of horrific deaths caused due to accidents.
Six persons including five women were killed and 22 persons (19 women + 3 men) injured in a blaze at a fireworks factory in Anupankulam village near Sivakasi on July 02, 2005.
In 1981, a major accident at Aruna Fireworks at Mettupatti killed 32 workers, including women and children. Over the years, there were a series of other fatal accidents, which exposed the hazardous nature of fireworks manufacture and the risk that the workers, particularly the children, were subject to.
In a desperate attempt to improvise and meet the demand for light over sound, the Sivakasi fireworks industry has been experimenting dangerously, trying new processes and chemical combinations, which the workers are not used to.
Recently, in 2012, 54 persons were charred to death in Mudhalipatti.
The factory and 48 sheds in the complex exploded in flames as the fire broke out when workers were mixing chemicals to make fancy fire crackers, trapping many in the inferno according to the police and fire brigade.
Explosions could be heard across more than two square km in the sleepy village as thick plumes of smoke engulfed the area with bodies burnt beyond recognition.
Sadly, all these industries are still operating. We’re not the first to write about this and we won’t be the last. Clearly, these things are known, but our law turns a blind eye to these problems.
However, how much of writing and coverage is needed to raise awareness? Maybe, it’s too late—your bags of crackers have already arrived. Wouldn’t Diwali still be happy if we don’t buy crackers?
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