Indian children carry bricks on their heads at a brick factory at Modhera.
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Winners and Losers
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The Changing Face of India - continued
by Nigel Cassidy, BBC Current Affairs

I've now come to the village of Dundigal, just a 45-minute drive from Hyderabad. As pleasure flies buzz overhead, whole families can be found in the open air making bricks in these kilns. The pay is the equivalent of about 55 pence, or 1 U.S. dollar a day, below the minimum wage. Project officer Vijay Kumar tells me about their daily routine.

"In the early morning he wakes up," says Kumar. "He is very busy in mixing this mud for the bricks. In that process wife and children bring water to mix this mud. From the afternoon they start making bricks. Children mix it around. Then he gives that mud to the molder. Then he molds the bricks."

I meet Purnima, an exceptionally lively woman, her eyes bright but her face etched with lines from years spent working in the open. She doesn't know how old she is, though Vijay thinks she's about 35. She's here with her husband and three children who also go to the school. She says if they learn how to read, they'll be able to help find the kilns by reading the signs when they're traveling. Beyond this, she has no other ambitions or expectations.

"How can I know my age when I can't even read or write?" Punimar asks. "I have two boys and a girl. They have to come with us. We have come a long way to find work here. If anything should happen, there's nobody to take care of us. If I die, I'd be buried here. I don't know where my life is going."

I ask, "Do you worry who will look after you when you're old?"

"I've been doing heavy work in these brick kilns for ten years," says Punimar. "I'll probably do another ten. After that, I'm going to die."

That's not the most generous view of globalization I've ever heard.

And, clearly, it is a tragedy. But let's take a step back and look at the overall trend. India in the 1970s, before it liberalized its economy, opened itself up to the United States and Russia and all other kinds of nations to trade, more than half its population was in poverty. The number today: one in three. And it's going in the right direction. So, globalization is not a panacea. Life is hard. Life is hard in many places of the world.

But you're thinking that her kids will leave the brickworks and grow up and put on a blouse or put on a tie and end up in an air-conditioned office somewhere?

There is a chance that that will happen to her kids. I don't know about her children. But perhaps the woman who's working in the next lot on the next set of bricks, maybe it's her children. They will have an option, they will have an opportunity that didn't exist 20 or 30 years ago.

So that really is the gamble here. We're going to sit here and we're going to have to wait for the final count. I sense from your eyeballs that you believe that in the end, this is a winning proposition. There will be more people moving up than down. I myself, I'm an agnostic. I want to see what's going to happen. And if it turns out that another third of India is middle-class in the next 20 years, hurray. But if it turns out that another third of India didn't quite make it, then from me you'll just get a sigh.

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