Bharat Patel.
Documentary Photographer.

Bharat Patel at the Centre for British Documentary Photography. India's Brick Works.

Bricks of Labour.

Over the past two decades India has seen a real economic boom and with it a boom in construction. As a result, the brick making industry on which it relies has grown rapidly. India is now the second largest producer of bricks in the world with nearly 250 billion bricks produced annually from over 120,000 brick kilns. But the industry is largely unregulated making it a hot bed for exploitation of labor. It is an industry which employs an estimated 15 million unskilled workers.

I have visited many brick kiln factories and interacted with owners and workers, this has given me a deeper insight on how this archaic system of brick making works.

Workers mostly come from the marginalized minority groups of Dalits and Adivasis. Also, the gross economic inequality within India means there is a ready source of cheap labor rife for exploitation. Many workers are often trafficked from their villages, lured by the prospect of good job and cash advances. They become the internal migrants travelling in family units often as extended families which invariably include children. In the brick kilns there is work for the whole family.

The process employs workers of multiple physical abilities, be that children, teenagers or adult producing upwards of 2000 bricks a day. The weaker member of the family; the children as young as 6 and the elderly carry out simple tasks of turning the newly molded bricks to dry or of guiding donkeys laden with bricks. The more able members dig out the soil and mix it with sand and water, mold the bricks in rows, stack them up after drying and transport them into and out of the kilns – this last task is physically demanding and often carried out in extremely dusty and hazardous conditions.

This collection of photographs shows men, women and children living and working in harsh conditions to eke out an existence.
See more of Bharat Patel's documentary work here.