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Bound to looms by poverty and fear, boys in India make a few men rich

Gargan, E.A. (1992, July 9). Bound to looms by poverty and fear, boys in India make a few men rich. The New York Times, A8.

OVERVIEW

According to The New York Times

 

For 12, 14, 16 hours a day, every day of the week, every week of the year, children as young as eight sit on rough planks knotting colored yarn around the stretched cords of the loom’s warp, creating carpets that India sells around the world.

India is expected to sell $170 million worth of carpets abroad this year, the vast majority hand-woven on looms here, virtually all of them by children. The U.S., the largest customer, takes about 45% of the exports; Germany is the second-largest buyer.

India’s carpet industry began to blossom in the last decade, after carpet exports from Iran and Afghanistan were reduced by international sanctions and war. While Indian carpets did not approach the quality of Persian or Afghan rugs, the finest is inexpensive enough and well enough made to sell well in the West...The more carpets are sold, the more children are bought.

There are no reliable data on the number of children working here (in the carpet looms of eastern Uttar Pradesh)...carpet brokers, professional associations and judicial officers all deny that any substantial number of children are working in bondage. But estimates by others...range from 300,000 to over a million. According to a report last month by the International Labor Organization, India has 44 million child laborers nationwide.

The children who work the looms ‘come mostly from the poorest sections of Bihar, the most impoverished state in India.’ Parents are given the equivalent to $50 to $66, a real help to the finances of poor families. A middleman will promise the parents their son will receive about $12.50 a month, good clothing and good food.

 

Once the deal is made, these kids are taken by bus or train to the carpet belt where they are received by local loom owners. They are locked into adobe dormitories, receive little or no bath water, and usually fed no vegetables or milk. After five years or so, they outgrow the small caves in which the looms are located and are allowed to return to their parents. It takes months for them to become experienced loom weavers, and slow learners or the recalcitrant are beaten on their backs while stooped in a chicken position. Across India there are more dangerous occupations in which children labor.

These facts are intriguing:

  • A 1976 Indian law prohibits all forms of bondage or slave labor.
  • A 1986 act bans children under 14 from many industries.
  • No one has ever gone to prison in India for using children as workers.

Saurabi Chandra is district magistrate for Varanasi, "the senior civil official of the carpet belt." He declared no children to be working in abusive labor situations in his jurisdiction. "Whenever any violation of any statute is pointed out action is taken. We have released a large number of bonded laborers." Yet, when pressed, he could not give any details of such action or of anyone ever prosecuted and asked, "Why are you defaming our industry?"

Secretary of the carpet makers’ association, Mr. Ansari, also denied that children, least of all those in forced labor, were important to their workforce.

Amarnath Kumar, a 10-year-old, and two companions were lucky enough to escape from Chateri. He was a cow boy when his father agreed to let the man take him to a better life. This is the boy’s report to the writer:

 

The first day we were brought there we were told we had to weave carpets. I took two months to learn. No money was paid to me. All day we had to weave, even up until midnight. We were not allowed to rest during the day. If we became slow, we were ‘murga banatha’ made like a chicken and beaten on our backs.

He used to lock us up at home, in a room. There were nine of us in the room. For one and a half years we never had green vegetables, not to talk of milk. He did not even allow us to have a bath.

 

The man who helped Amarnath and his friends and hundreds of other children is a Dr. Raman Kant Rai. A chemist by training, Rai has worked in the area helping families and village economies for twenty years. Only recently has he turned his attention to those suffering as forced child laborers.

 

For a long time you look at something and don’t see it. You don’t know what you’re seeing. We have a lot of blindness.

Nowadays, migrant child labor, bonded child labor, has increased. The people who are engaged in this have all kinds of money and influence. In this area, there has not been a single raid by the authorities.

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION

  1. What do you know of child labor in various world cultures throughout history?
  2. What, do you think, should be the standards for child labor? How should world opinion affect the practices of child labor within other countries?
  3. What is your response, and what action would you suggest regarding the conditions described in this article?

IMPLICATIONS

  1. India is a very beautiful and ancient culture. We must appreciate the positive features of Indian society before considering a problem like this and remember that every country today harbors its travesties against children and youth.
  2. It is important for teachers and youth leaders especially to be aware of the place of children and youth around the world. To some extent there should be solidarity of children and youth of the world.
  3. The employment of children and youth is a consideration that deserves careful attention in any culture.

Dean Borgman cCYS