The Quarry *
My daughter and I arrived in June, before the monsoon in the North Hill
of Thuvakkudimalai, India, at the earth-torn remnant of a nearly depleted
quarry in the south of India. When I come upon the scene and looked down
below, my brain trips and flips over in my pounding skull. A long irregular
line of small, crouching figures is staggering up the steep hill with baskets
of rocks balancing precariously on their heads.
The scorching heat and the
gravel dust clouds all blend together to form a devilish entity, taunting
and daring us to enter. My knees go weak and I can only helplessly stand
there at the top, looking at hell from the crumbling crater rim.
No agriculture thrives here, no birdsong, no rhythmic singing of peasants
sharing the task to separate wheat from chaff, no children hiding behind
the cows or sheep, no sound of laugher. There is only a deep yawning gray
The quarry is not the silver gray of grandmothers hair, or the
gleaming steel grey of metal. This gray is a dead gray, lifeless except
for the clicking, chipping sounds that bounce around the high shaggy walls.
There is little relief in this real-life painting, Except for the muted,faded
clothes that wrap around the thin, dark bodies of the workers; there is
no color at all.
The tribal people who work here, on the edge of hell and slavery, are bonded
untouchables; beyond untouchable. They are called Otta Naikars, and Padayachi
Gounders, unclassified populations drawn away from distant villages .Without
land, without crops, without income, their grandparents and parents migrated
here to this treeless rock 40 or 50 years ago, caught in a mesh of hunger
and promissory notes to the recruiters who carried them to this treeless
Their identity cards, if they have one, list them as b.c. backward
class, and more or less, like the quarry, at the bottom of even the
Dalits in social hierarchy. Annamalai, who is now 63, remembered his early
life, nothing but sheer poverty. He states it simply. At the
age of 12, I was brought by an agent to this quarry field. Over the
next two decades, he gradually brought his relatives from their native places.
It took Annamalai and the other Gounders and Naikars who came with him,
packed like sardines in the back of a swaying lorry, four years of hard
labor just to pay the traveling debt.
Though bonded labor is illegal in India, it is by no means finished. Bonded
laborers long back,often fall prey to brokers. Husbands and sons are tempted
by offers that will advance 5000 to 10,000 rupees ($US20 to$40) depending
upon the size of the family members. Once they take money from employers
they will be hooked and almost never come out of this gravelly net.
*Field notes by Sheree.
In 2004, Ananda gave a grant to start a school for children of this stone
quarry. Simultaneously, their parents are getting helped through microcredit
loans to start small businesses such as fruitcarts and tea stalls.