Beasts of Burden

A trip to the Kathmandu Valley to photograph the human and animal workforce in brick kilns.

Mules are bred in India and purchased there to work in Nepal’s brick kilns. If they survive in reasonable condition they can be sold on as mountain pack animals at the end of the season. The mule owners bring with them boys to drive the mules back and forth, from the brick drying stacks to the kiln itself. Many of these children are classed as bonded labour. Their families are paid upfront for the child’s season of work. They can rapidly become trapped in a cycle of debt.
Conditions are even worse for adult workers. The safe working load for a mule is a third of its bodyweight. I saw adults carrying as many as 32 two-kilo bricks – effectively their entire bodyweight.
If you want to know more about this issue have a look at ‘Brick by Brick’. This excellent report links environment, human labour and animal welfare.

Brick Kiln Kathmandu Nepal

Brick Kiln Kathmandu Nepal

Brick Kiln Kathmandu Nepal

Brick Kiln Kathmandu Nepal

Brick Kiln Kathmandu Nepal

Brick Kiln Kathmandu Nepal

Brick Kiln Kathmandu NepalBrick Kiln Kathmandu NepalBrick Kiln Kathmandu NepalBrick Kiln Kathmandu NepalBrick Kiln Kathmandu NepalBrick Kiln Kathmandu NepalBrick Kiln Kathmandu NepalBrick Kiln Kathmandu NepalBrick Kiln Kathmandu Nepal

Brick Kiln Kathmandu Nepal

Work, Climate and Donkeys

For donkeys as well as people, the brick kilns in India are dangerous and unhealthy places to work – but unemployment is worse.

The RAJ brick kiln in Rajakhera near Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India.

At the RAJ kiln near Agra, accommodation for donkeys and their owners lies empty. Unseasonal rains have waterlogged the brick kilns and there’s no work for them here.

Back in the home village of Madhupur, 16-year old Archang wakes early to begin looking after the unemployed men of her family.

The family have to feed themselves and their donkeys, whether or not they’re earning.

Families who also own a cart can occasionally earn some money hauling a load.

But most of the men and their animals will be out of work until the kilns dry out again.

Climate change makes life more precarious.

Home Lives of the Donkey People

Donkey owners – problem or solution?

Indian brick kiln donkeys

Itinerant donkey owners working in Gujarat’s brick kilns spend 24 hours a day with their donkeys. They live, work, play and abide together. The donkeys’ welfare is entirely in the people’s hands. So who are they, and how do they live alongside their animals? I hope these photographs from MA Ambapur kiln near Ahmedabad will help show how these two societies live together.

 

Grazing

In the UK the word ‘grazing’ brings to mind lush green fields. In Madhupur village near Agra we followed donkey owner Daudayal as he took his family’s donkeys to the only grazing available to them.

Donkeys graze on plastic and excrement
 

The land doubles as a latrine for the entire village, which lacks basic sanitation.

Continue reading “Grazing”

Smartphones

Itinerant brick kiln workers use WhatsApp to stay in touch.

Donkey owner-drivers working in the brick kilns of Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh are paid every Friday, but receive a lump sum payment at the end of the brick-making season. This allows them to buy Indian-made smartphones costing about 5,000 Rupees each.

Most donkey owners are itinerant and may be away from their home villages for many months at a time. The phones allow them to stay in touch, both with family members, and friends working in other kilns. They’re also a status symbol for the young. Using WhatsApp is cheap and may be a spur to literacy for a largely unschooled workforce.

 

Madhupur Village near Agra, Uttar Pradesh. Virat (13) who likes to be known as ‘Brad’ with his smartphone. He good-naturedly photographs every move the UK photographer makes.

 

Continue reading “Smartphones”

Animal traction

In the UK animal traction and haulage are things of the past – relegated to the heritage industry. In India draft animals play a key role in the modern economy. Aside from their use in agriculture, donkeys and mules are essential to the construction industry. The livelihoods of many thousands of marginalised families are reliant on the welfare and efficient functioning of their teams of donkeys and mules. These photo stories take a look at this industry.

 

Brick Story


India is experiencing a building boom to cope with its rapid urbanisation. Thousands of concrete-frame high rise blocks, with brick infill, can be seen rising up around Delhi and Mumbai. Almost every one of the millions of bricks involved has been transported by donkey or mule at the brick kilns where they are made. So how does it work?

Continue reading “Brick Story”

Arjun, brick kiln boy

This is Arjun, he is a 12 year old boy working as a donkey driver in the MA Ambabpur brick kiln near Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India. This story will tell you about how he spends his day.

 

Continue reading “Arjun, brick kiln boy”

Donkey Cam

Donkeys have a blind spot immediately in front of them, but can see right round to their hind legs – though not behind their head.

Simply mounting a wide angle camera on a donkey’s head won’t tell us how a donkey really ‘sees’ the world. But it can tell us something about its working life. Its movements, its height, the rhythm of its work, how it directs its attention and perhaps how it relates to people and other donkeys.

This donkey shot 2,700 photographs over a 45 minute period as it went about its repetitive work at a brick kiln in Gujarat, India. This selection of its work will tell you as much about what I think makes an interesting photograph as it does about donkey consciousness. But that would apply if I had shot them myself.

 

With thanks to the donkey with the camera

Bedrooms

Khesikala village 1 km from Faridabad KSN brick kiln near Delhi, India. 
Brick kiln carter Rohtas (24) with his two year old stallion horse at his stable in the village. It is unusual to see horses working in brick kilns.
 © Crispin Hughes

 

This is a male horse with his owner Rohtas. They work in a brick kiln. They both live in a house with plastered and painted walls and electric light.

 

Khesikala village 1 km from Faridabad KSN brick kiln near Delhi, India. 
The mule owners who work at the kiln are settled here in the village. The mules enjoy good stables and food here.
Vedpal (30) with his 2 year old mule at his stable in the village.
Modern India is built on the backs of donkeys and mules. © Crispin Hughes

 

This is a mule with his owner Vedpas. They also work at the brick kiln. The mule also has a nice bedroom, though not quite as nice as the horse’s bedroom.

 

Madhupur Village near Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India. Annar Devi and her family are cousins to Harish. They keep a buffalo and calf, a horse and goats in the stable and yard outside their house.

 

This is a buffalo with her owner Annar Devi. The buffalo has a bedroom, though its not painted, has no electric light and is open on one side. She has a sacking blanket to keep her warm.

 

Goat. Madhupur Village near Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India.

 

This is a goat, Somehow it seems to have got a plastered and painted bedroom.

 

Madhupur Village near Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India. Harish (19) owns five donkeys and works at the VIP brick kiln about ten kilometres from Madhupur village.

 

These are donkeys with their owner Harish. They all work in a brick kiln with Harish. They sleep outside in the rain. Harish puts their pack saddles on in the evening to keep them warm, and to stop the crows from pecking at the saddle wounds on their backs.

 

Madhupur Village near Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India. Harish (19) owns five donkeys and works at the VIP brick kiln about ten kilometres from Madhupur village.


Madhupur Village near Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India.
Harish and his family.
Mahender, his father Daudayal, Luekush (12) and Harish in Mahender and Ruby’s beautiful bedroom.

 

This is the bedroom of Harish’s older brother Mahender – standing on the left. Mahender made a good marriage with a good dowry. The room is plastered and painted and has electricity.

 

Madhupur Village near Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India.
Harish and his family.
Brothers Mahender, Harish and Luekush with their father Daudayal and mother Sakuntla and Mahender’s mule. Daudayal and his wife sleep here. Mahender has made a marriage with a good dowry and sleeps in a beautiful bedroom at the front of the house.

 

This is the bedroom at the back of the house where their parents (on the right) and Mahender’s mule sleep. It’s made of brick but it’s not plastered or painted and it doesn’t have electricity.

 

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With thanks to everyone at Khesikala and Madhupur, and to TDS India

Modern India is built on the backs of donkeys

Gurgaon, a city outside Delhi, India, is undergoing a boom in construction fuelled by the new Metro link and Delhi’s need for young professionals. Almost every brick in the country has been carried by donkeys during its manufacture. In Gurgaon they also work in lieu of cranes.

 

Modern India is built on the backs of donkeys. Guargaon, a city outside Delhi, India, is undergoing a boom in construction fuelled by the new Metro link and Delhi’s need for young professionals.

Continue reading “Modern India is built on the backs of donkeys”