The recent death of a 10-year-old Irula tribal boy in a brick kiln in Namakkal district under mysterious circumstances has prompted rights’ groups to urge the district administration to carry out a detailed inspection in its brick kilns to verify whether child labour is prevalent.

The boy, Kaliappan, from Kannalam hamlet in Villupuram district was forced to work in a kiln at B. Alanganatham village along with his parents, Kasi and Muniammal, and his brothers, Anand (16) and Murugan (6), for nearly 8 months.

A broker in his village had paid his parents Rs. 17,500 as loan advance to work in the kiln; each of them had to make and cut 1,000 bricks daily for a wage of Rs. 60. They stayed in a hut and were never allowed outside.

When Kasi fell ill, he sought permission from the kiln owner to go to his village, promising him that he would return once he got better. The owner allowed Muniammal to accompany him, but detained his children in the kiln itself. “I was asked to pay Rs. 17,500 with interest immediately to take my children along. I had no other option but to leave them there,” Kasi said.

On August 14, Kasi received a phone call from one Senthil in Namakkal that his son Kaliappan had died and that he could take the body after settling the loan advance. Kasi rushed to Namakkal and asked the kiln owner how his son died. A group of thugs then manhandled him and asked him to leave for his village immediately with the boy’s body.

Kasi alleged that even the police preferred to keep off, despite his appeals.

Fearing for their lives, the family approached the Tribal Sammelan at Villupuram, which in turn sought the help of rights’ group Evidence.

The matter was referred to the Namakkal Superintendent of Police A. Pari, who asked the police to register a complaint. After 78 hours, the boy’s body was taken to the Salem Government Medical College Hospital where a post-mortem was held.

Mr. Pari told The Hindu that a detailed investigation was under progress. “We will take action as per the law,” he said. The members of Evidence’s fact-finding team said they found 30 children working in such kilns in the village.

Evidence’s Executive Director A. Kadir insisted that the police register a case against the owner of the kiln under the provisions of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and demanded a compensation of Rs. 5 lakh to the victim’s family.

He urged the Collector to order an enquiry to find out whether brick kilns, a major industry in Namakkal, employed child labour.

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