Archive for January 2007
Leonardo di Caprio may well be nominated for the Oscar for his role as the South African diamond smuggler in ‘Blood Diamond’, a film attempting to lay bare the thriving international trade in conflict diamonds that fuels wars and conflicts in several part of Africa. The movie, supported by Global Witness and Amnesty International, opened in India a few weeks ago and is showing in glittering multiplexes in the heart of Mumbai, just around the corner from the diamond markets of this bustling ‘financiapolis’ of India.
Over 90% of the world’s rough diamonds pass through these markets on their journey to Surat, the biggest small-diamond processing centre in the world 326 kms by road from the city. A Guardian Observer investigation alleges that ‘blood diamonds’ from Ivory Coast and Liberia are being illegally processed here.
According to the article, “The stones brought in by dhows and fishing boats through the shallow waters of Gujarat’s ungovernable west coast make a laughing stock of attempts to stem the global flow of blood diamonds.” The Kimberly Process, set up by diamond merchants, NGOs, governments and the UN in 2003 governs, albeit loosely the trade in diamonds and should help prevent the use of diamonds to fuel conflicts.
But the Kimberly process does not make any mention of child labour that is reported to be so prevalent in Surat, adding more blood the already tainted stones. Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Children Foundation) alleges that over 30,000 children are stuck in this trade in Dickensian conditions. These claims are stoutly denied by the industry.
And why not? Reports [1, 2] allege that over the years the diamond cutting industry has resisted unionisation or bringing itself under the purview of the Indian Factory Act that promised minimum wages and benefits for its workers. This is done by keeping the number of workers in each unit under nine (the legal limit requiring registration under the Act) and registering hundreds of small units. And it is in these units that the children are lost without a trace.
Diamond cutting is on the top of the list of ‘hazardous work’ that the law prohibits children from work in. And these are the children who sweat and toil, losing out on their childhood to add small value the ‘bling, bling’ that is the fad. The Kimberly process is meeting at this time to review the working of the ban.
Would they stop to consider for a moment the children in Surat, who are churning out these diamonds, paying with their own blood?
The year 2006 was an interesting one as far as the Indian policy environment relating to children was concerned. This was the year that the much appreciated and equally maligned ‘child labour ban’ that punished those who employed children below 14 in domestic labour or in hotels and eateries around the country was put in place. The child marriage act made it possible for children to step out of the forced alliance with legal remedy. Children with HIV in six states would get free antiretroviral treatment through a programme rolled out by the National AIDS Control Society – a much needed measure that needs to be made universal. On December 13, 2006 the Supreme Court reiterated an order that pulled up the government for lax implementation of the Integrated Child Development Scheme, calling for the top bureaucrats in several states to explain why the scheme was not implemented satisfactorily.
But then, all of this was brushed aside by the ‘Horror of Nithari’. Almost at the fag end of the year the country watched horrified as skeletons of children were dug up from a drain separating a posh Bungalow in one of the high value suburbs of the capital of India from the village of Nithari.
As I watched this the first thought that I had was a poll by the Reuters group in August 2006; the one that reported that India was the sixth most dangerous place for children. As news reports showed that the number of children who could have been murdered edge slowly towards the 34 they are stuck at now, I was reminded of the passionate denials of this status by several media as well as the general public.
A Hindu editorial that appeared a week after this poll went public was almost tongue in cheek in saying, “Exaggeration and over-the-top assertions will prove counter-productive.” Well, the reports and pictures of rage from the villagers were not exaggerations but counter productive they may well be.
And the question being asked again and again is what did the villagers, the police and the neighbours do as 34 (and the number keeps growing) children went missing. While the debate rages around this with all and sundry (present company included) I have a sneaky feeling that a scene like this will be played back again…and again…and again.
This surmise is not without reason. Almost universally (and more pronouncedly in India), children are more valued for what they can do for us than for what they are – the value we place on them is dependent on what they can do for us, rather than for the . They are often called ‘resources of the future’ and things like that and hence any child has value only if he or she is in school, has rich parents or has a chance at making something out of their lives. The ‘Nithari 34’ did not fall into any of these categories and hence ‘do not count’. Whose children were they?
Well, nothing’s gonna change….and i am sure we will be having this discussion once again when the horror is repeated.