Diwali: Spare a thought for children of Sivakasi
One of the first things that we would be looking in a yearly calendar is the day Diwali would be celebrated. The Indians living in India would be itching to celebrate while the Indians living abroad would make sure their Indian holiday plans are in sync with Diwali time. Joy derived from triumph of good over evil is the hallmark of Diwali. However, there are certain sections of people who need to be remembered, the same people who are the catalyst for making your Diwali as colourful as you want to be.
Every year, 90 per cent of the crackers for Diwali are made from a small place called Sivakasi in South India. This is the capital of the fireworks industry in India and one of the leading centers across the world. After Lui Yang, the Chinese city which is leader in the world production of crackers, Sivakasi is the next hub for global fireworks industries. This is something that we should be proud about, however, this empire has been built on a model of extreme low wages and high casualty rates. According to the Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers Association (TNFAMA), 237 lives have been lost over the last 12 years in fireworks manufacturing plants. In September this year, 39 people lost their lives in a fire at Om Shakti Fireworks in Sivakasi due to lack of adherence to safety norms and regulations in the town. The flouting of safety norms is a norm rather than an aberration in the fireworks industry especially amidst the unorganized and small companies operating across the sector. Even though there has been widespread condemnation by civil society over the state of affairs in Sivakasi, year after year you see a similar situation unfolding. While accidents could happen in any city which produces firecrackers, it rarely happens with the sheer consistency and magnitude of Sivakasi in recent times. Besides the issue of safety, the issue of child labour has plagued the industry for long.
Lets come to terms with this fact; most of the crackers that you are bursting today have had involvement of child labour at some level or the other. Though this is alarming, it is not surprising considering the magnitude of child labour in the fireworks industry across the country. Child labour is regrettably rampant as much in many other industries but the exploitation of children to make crackers that are dangerous is simply unacceptable. According to a UN study published in the mid 1990's there were 30,000 people employed in the match industry and 3,000 people employed in the fireworks industry in Sivakasi; all in between the age of 6-14. Some estimates suggest that the daily wage for these workers is less than 150 Rupees a day; an abysmal reality that makes it almost on par with the minimum wage for workers in the fireworks industry which has been set at Rs 99.98 per day. Besides the economics, the question is why should the children be doing what they are doing? Shouldn't they be taken care of by the society and the state? What happened to the self acclaimed goal of education to all? All of these questions point to a greater role needed to be played by both the state and the society at large.
There has to be a systematic response from the government in terms of legislation that tightens the safety norms and action on the ground with more investment in safety monitoring systems. A report from the BBC states that Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) had just 4 officers overseeing over 1,000 companies and factories in Sivakasi over the last year. Is this good enough? There has to be an increase in manpower in monitoring mechanisms and enhanced law and order which cracks down vehemently on the firecracker owners who are flouting rules. Though there have been raids on companies flouting the law, the issue requires more investment and action. Legislation such as the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 could be revamped to discourage children from working in family owned businesses etc. In addition, there has to be a sustained effort to educate the public, especially the people in the rural areas, on the impact of this on the children's future in the years to come.
Society needs to stand up and address these concerns. I am not suggesting we boycott crackers but why not contribute to the upliftment of communities in the Sivakasi belt in the form of public private partnership? Why not work on evolving the best practices that the world's leading fireworks manufacturing city Lui Yang has? Why not try and provide education tools to these young kids who are sweltering in the heat with their lives on the line? Why not just think about all that we could do to mobilize non governmental resources for this cause? Why not start thinking about all this during an auspicious day such as Diwali?
As you celebrate this Diwali, spare a thought for the people of Sivakasi; after all, they are the ones who make your Diwali sparkle
Wish you a very Happy Diwali!!
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More about Sriram Balasubramanian
Sriram Balasubramanian is a Journalist, voracious reader, avid Blogger, social enthusiast and a believer in excellence not mediocrity. With an inherent passion towards journalism and writing, he believes in playing the "Straight Drive" all the time. Besides this, he has a MS in Engineering Management and has played Chess for Singapore.
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