KOLKATA/CALCUTTA — “We get around 200 calls a day,” says Ranita Nandi, a counsellor working at the Hamara Ghair (‘Our House’), a sort of way-station for kids who have fled harsh home or working lives in Kolkata and elsewhere in West Bengal or farther away in neighbouring states in northeast India. In some of India’s poorer rural communities, children leave school early, sent to work on farms or elsewhere. Ranita’s organisation, the Child In Need Institute (CINI), handles some of the calls to the childline set up for children who want help. Some end up staying at the Hamara Ghair for a short time. The line rings several times in a few minutes, while Ranita explains how the facility works. In Kolkata alone, the line received 168,139 calls in the March 2011-April 2012 period – though of those ‘only’ 24,205 ended up as actual conversations. “Sadly we get a lot of crank calls,” says Ranita, pointing out statistics showing 43,664 calls listed as ‘Crank/Fun/Abusive’.
KOLKATA/CALCUTTA — It’s an overnight train ride from Chattisagarh to India’s third biggest city Kolkata, a journey 17 year old Lakshmi Kumari makes once a year with her parents. They are among the estimated one and a quarter million poor Indians who work on Kolkata’s brick kilns, back-breaking seasonal work in 35-40 degrees heat. Asia’s third biggest economy after China and Japan, India’s two decades of around 8% annual growth has lifted tens, perhaps hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. The country’s middle class now numbers around 300 million, and some Indians are making their mark on the world economy. Last year 55 Indians made the Forbes’ list of the world’s billionaires, up from 23 in 2006. In 2008, Tata Motors bought Jaguar and Land Rover, a deal striking for its reverse-colonial symbolism, as an Indian company acquired 2 quintessentially-British brands.
KOLKATA — On the outskirts of India’s third-largest city, 5,000 partly blackened chimneys stand 100 feet high, belching smoke into the sky over millions of reddened bricks below. Some of the bricks are stacked neatly into huge square-cornered stacks, and still more, innumerable, are piled roughly – some broken, some chipped and cracked, as if tipped wantonly from a wheelbarrow. Here around 1.25 million low-caste migrant workers and their dependents spend six months each year dredging clay from nearby lakes or molding bricks under the scorching sun, or lugging back-breaking hods. It is seasonal work, done by India’s lowest castes, or in some cases, dirt-poor immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. Ram Dayal, whose home is in Gazpar in Uttar Pradesh, a 24-hour train ride away, says has worked the kilns for 25 weather-beating years. Asked his age, he laughs and says he doesn’t know exactly. “I have a son about your age though,” he says.