30
May

Industry Under the Open Sky: A Political Economy of Brick Kilns in Nepal

Sanjay Sharma

Bricks are associated with every Nepali urban and periurban household as they are one of the primary construction materials. The rise in internal migration to urban centres as a result of centralization of resources, the decade-long conflict, and growing international remittances has swollen the real-estate sector, including bricks, and its prices at an alarming rate. Because of the huge amount of money involved in the industry, the newly formed local governments are eyeing the revenue. The various tiers of government are divided upon whose jurisdiction the brick industry should fall into because every stratum wants a share of the pie. In this limelight, the analysis of the political economy of brick kilns delves into various levels associated with the kilns using a social network analysis. The aim of the social network analysis is to help understand the sectoral power relationships and the shadow networks, if any, involved within and outside the kiln. The paper, on the one hand, identifies and analyses the power relations that arise out of social relations and economic transactions among various actors directly and indirectly linked with bricks. On the other hand, the paper investigates various economic and social relations emerging out of the power dynamics among the actors. This study of the brick industry, in which the paper is based, was conducted in 2018 by using interviews and observation as the two primary research tools. Additionally, extensive literature was reviewed to provide an in-depth understanding on the issue.

Brick-making in about a thousand industries in Nepal is still very much manual, while automation is introduced by only a handful. The work is done under the open sky with very little concern for the worker’s well-being. Although the environmental concerns have been addressed to a large extent because of lobbying and interventions, the aspect of worker rights is very nascent. As many of the kiln workers are cross-border migrants who come from India or seasonal migrants from rural Nepal who have very little organized bargaining and knowledge about their rights or workplace safety. Brick sector also observes family migration. Not just are men and women involved, there are many children helping their parents in making bricks. There are workers and naikes (group leaders or middlemen) at all stages of production of a brick from moulding to transporting to baking to loading and supplying. Within the kiln, the naikes (group leaders or middlemen) stand out as an important bridge between the kiln workers and the owners. As the owners are almost unapproachable for a typical worker, their concerns and grievances are addressed by the naikes or voiced upon to the owner. Consequently, naikes assert a lot of power within the kiln and it is important for the owners to keep them happy because they might just go to some other kiln in the next season. The better a worker or a naike can bargain, the more money they bag in.

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