The Sweat-shops of Salmara

“School is for the rich man’s bachaa,” says six-year-old Meenara Begum, her tiny hands busy peeling betel nut. In the Nurul Islam Supari Factory, Meenara is one of the 19 children at work, bread earners of their families. And she isn’t the youngest. Anisur Rahman is four, Sofiqul Islam, five. Ensconced in the dingy shed, it is their world, where a day’s earnings amounts Rs 15; it keeps her alive along with her family, most of whom work as domestic help in the rich man’s house. Theirs is a story that is shared by the dozens of child labourers who work in the supari factories of South Salmara, in Assam’s Dhubri district, nameless cogs in a world that really doesn’t have time for them. “I don’t care,” says Nurul Islam, owner of the factory Meenara works in, “so long as the business runs.”

Women aged 25 to 40 and children as young as four to those in their early teens work in Islam’s factory. Most of the child labourers are girls, and most among them have never been to school. Day in and day out life exists within the four walls of their supari factories where they work cooped up in the most unhygienic conditions.
Two square meals is as good as life gets here. “We (adults) earn Rs 30 a day,” says Manzila Begum, who took up work at the factory to make ends meet for herself and her three daughters. “Just how do we eat something good, like fish or meat?”

For workers like Manzila and others like Aliza Begum, 23, and Asma Khatun, 25, who work in places such as the Aminur Supary factory and the Amzad Supary Factory, apart from Nurul’s factory, home comprises a thatched shed that is rented for Rs 100 a month in bordering Meghalaya, without, expectedly, the most basic of amenities, or and no health facility worth the name. “Malaria, jaundice and cholera attacks are most common in the area,” says Shamim Zakaria, one of the few here to have gone to school.

And just what has the government of Assam, or Meghalaya done for the children who sweat it out in the supari factories of Dhubri? As of now, nothing. (By arrangement with Newsfile)

By Ashikur Rahman (newsfiledelhi@hotmail.com)