The afternoon shift from 12 noon to 6 p.m. is the worst, with daytime temperatures nearing 40 C (104 F.) and relative humidity between 70 and 80 percent. That's before you factor in the heat from the vast kiln, though.
“You get used to it,” shrugs Murai Rajbal, his hands black from soot and brow laced with smoke-darkened sweat. He guesses his own age to be “around 41 or 42.” With “only 12 years working here,” he's a relative newcomer compared with Ram Dayal.
The migrants and their children often have little or no formal schooling, and, given that most of the workers – except those working the fires– are paid according to how many bricks they make or can carry, being able to count is key to ensuring a fair day's pay.
Since 2006 the nongovernmental organization GOAL, based in Ireland, has worked alongside local authorities and other NGOs to improve living standards for 3,500 children and 8,500 adults who live and work at the kilns for half the year. Dora Chauduri is the assistant country director for GOAL's India program, which works in tandem with West Bengal's local government – particularly the social welfare department and the women and child development department.
Watching as GOAL-funded teachers give basic literacy and numeracy lessons to children at the kilns – in a small, steamy classroom – she says that "as well as supporting the migrant workers with much-needed safe drinking water and sanitation, such as latrines, GOAL works with the Narayantala Mass Communication Society [a local West Bengal NGO] to help with basic literacy and numeracy for migrant children and help the migrants gain awareness of their rights under the law.”