In writing my story, Seeds of Slavery, I went online to research some real-life stories of children sent to work in the cottonseed fields of South Asia. Some of the information I gleaned to support the plot of my story came from this document - but there were many!
Hybrid cottonseed production in India is a labour intensive activity. The main part of this production is cross-pollination which is done manually. This activity alone requires about 90% of the total labour and is done mostly by children. Children are employed on a long-term contract basis through advances and loans extended to their parents by local seed producers, who have agreements with the large national and multinational seed companies. Children are made to work 8 to 12 hours and are paid less than the market and official minimum wages. They are also exposed to poisonous pesticides used in high quantities in cottonseed cultivation. Most of the children working in cottonseed farms belong to poor families from Scheduled Castes (SCs) or Dalits, Scheduled Tribes (STs) or Adivasi, and Backward Castes (BCs). Farmers employ children, particularly girls, primarily in order to minimize costs. Farmers also hire children in preference to adults because farmers can squeeze out higher productivity from children per day. Children will work longer hours, will work much more intensively and they are generally much easier to control than adult workers – whether through verbal or physical abuse or through inexpensive treats like chocolate or hair ribbons.
The children in Seeds of Slavery: Daksha, Sarla and Kalami will tell you through their voices how the children in the cottonseed fields work, survive and hope for a better life. Enjoy the excerpt below and be sure to sign up for the Pre-Sale price!
|Cross Pollination by young girl like Daksha.|
Daksha awoke at dawn, splashed cold water on her face, and squinted out into the darkness. The sky was growing lighter in the east as she stepped over the threshold of the old farmhouse. The past two months had been so hard. Uncle had finally found her a cot beside Kalami and some of the other girls a few weeks ago. Kalami had reached across the tiny space between their cots that first night and squeezed her hand. Daksha squeezed back, happy to have someone she knew close by. Daksha was relieved she no longer had to sleep in the tent with some of the adults. Many of the men snored loudly and sometimes she was worried about being so alone. Uncle was not always at the farm. Those were the worst times. She hurried through the dust and took her place near the cooking fires already burning brightly. She quickly made some tea and sat by the fire with Kalami and some of the other children getting ready to move out into the cottonseed fields. I am glad Sarla doesn’t have to work in the fields like Kalami.
The sun was just peeking over the horizon when Daksha reached the field. It was a big farm. She could not see the end of it—just rows upon rows of cotton plants. Some came as high as her shoulders. Daksha squatted in the dust with her basket at her feet. She reached out to grab the first flower of the day. Carefully choosing only the male flowers, she moved down the row, bending, picking, bending, picking just like her uncle’s chickens scratching in his yard. Daksha never chatted with any of the other girls. She was too tired to even smile anymore. She knew she would have to walk around this field two or three times today. The early morning was the easiest when the hot sun was not scorching her shoulders so much. Her stomach rumbled as she bent to pick a flower low to the ground, hiding under some of the sharp dry branches. A stem pricked her finger. The blood dripped from her hand onto the white flower. She dropped it quickly into the basket before anyone would notice. Daksha’s back began to ache and her finger was hurting. She stood tall to stretch a little and was relieved to see the other girls walking towards the farmhouse for their mid-morning breakfast dosa. She could imagine the little pancake filled with all kinds of delicious treats when her Papa was happy. He used to pick her and Sarla up at the same time and swing them around and around until they giggled so hard Daksha was afraid she would not be able to even stand by herself. She and Sarla would tease their Papa with little bites of their dosa, never quite letting him get a nibble. Mama was happy then too, smiling from her bed while she fed little Ramesh. A dark shadow passed through Daksha’s mind as she stood with her empty dosa in her hand. No filling and no Papa.