Sivakasi (Tamil Nadu), Nov 5 (IANS) Every time a sparkler lights up the sky during Diwali festivities, spare a thought for Karuppuswamy, Chitra and Muneeswari - three of the nearly 100,000 children toiling away in Sivakasi's fireworks and match industry.
The three children feature in a 25-minute documentary film, 'Tragedy Buried in Happiness', shot by South Korean broadcaster Taegu Broadcasting Corp in August with the help of Manitham, a rights NGO working with children, Unicef, Amnesty International and the National Confederation of Human Rights.
No volunteer of the National Rural Health Mission ever visits 12-year-old Chitra, who has been confined for four years within the walls of her tiny room - ever since the child, a rank holder in her school, got burnt while making crackers in the town, 650 km south of the state capital Chennai.
Today Chitra cowers before visitors, drawing up a grey sheet to cover her burnt body and her half burnt face. Her eloquent eyes speak to Hyuk Soo Seo's camera and say all that she does not tell.
Chitra's mother is reluctant to admit how much she was paid, what was the name of the unit where the accident took place. She only complains that it would have cost Rs.200,000 for the child's plastic surgery and that no one has helped her daughter.
Karuppusamy, 14, sits in an alley, surrounded by his siblings, stuffing gunpowder into holding trays for crackers. His hands and face are shrivelled. Asked if he feels pain, he says, 'No.'
Muneeswari's hands are yellow; no, not due to henna. 'The gum that the children in her work group use contains cyanide, which stains every hand that contributes to this industry,' said G. Subramanian, executive director, Manitham.
On camera, Muneeswari, 12, says she gets Rs.100 per week for eight to 12 hours of work every day. Her earnings help her parents feed her siblings.
Manitham activists say there are about 100,000 children working in the narrow bylanes of Sivakasi, about 650 km south of Chennai and home to the fireworks and matchstick industry, employing 50,000 people.
'There is a ray of hope,' said rights activist and advocate Ajeetha B.S.
'We are beginning to notice a slight shift in the ages of the child labourers. A few years ago we found 10-year-olds working in these factories, now we find the children a little older, about 13-14,' Ajeetha told IANS here.
Another activist, not wishing to be named, added: 'What is happening in India today is exploitation of child labour, be it in the firework industry or in the farms. The issue is not poor working conditions, it is exploitation of children.'
India is estimated to have nearly 125 million child workers, 80 percent of them in rural areas.
Appreciating the documentary, noted lawyer and rights activist Sudha Ramalingam said: 'We have been fighting to end child labour for more than two decades. The film is a shocking revelation of what still goes on.'
But making the film was not easy. Subramanian said, 'No Indian NGO or filmmaker was ready to shoot the film. We were, therefore, forced to go to filmmakers from Korea.' The documentary is in Korean, dubbed into Tamil and English.
(Papri Sri Raman can be contacted at [email protected])