Jan Sahas has rescued 15 bonded labourers of Madhya Pradesh, who were trafficked to Karnataka state on January 20, 2015. This rescue operation was conducted in collaboration with International Justice Mission, Karnataka CID, Anti-Trafficking Unit and local police.
Backdrop of labourers and their plight
Khargone district is one of the most backward districts of Madhya Pradesh where tribal population is significant. Predominantly Bhil, Bhilala and Barela tribe communities are living in Khargaon district. When scarcity strikes the region, people migrate to other places, districts and states in search of job and livelihood. Most of these migrant workers are working as construction workers in Jalna, districts of Maharashtra.
Last year 15 persons belonging to the Barela tribe were working in Jalna district. They finished their job by the end of November 2015. Meanwhile, the contract labour agent, one Kokta, offered them 75 days of work in Karantaka state, and gave them advance of Rs 20,000 each. The labour contractor assured them that they would be offered same type of work, of the type they were engaged in Jalna district, and once work was completed, they were free to go to their home.
These 15 labourer, including four women, moved to Bagalkot district of Karnataka. The labourers did not know that they would get trapped into bondage, that that their movement would be restricted and they would be treated like slaves.
Working conditions and exploitation
The Hindi speaking tribal people neither envisaged language constraints nor did they realize that it was going to be worst for them if they moved to another state for work. The laboueres were taken to Petlur village of Bagalkot district for sugarcane cutting. They were provided with just tents and some basic necessities of survival.
They were forced to cut the sugarcane until the truck trolley gets full even, if it was late in the evening. They have no other option but to do it. And, it was compulsory to start working at 5 am till truck trolley got full. The owner also appointed eight to ten men to keep a watch on them. Even women labourers were followed and watched when they went for defecation.
The owner used to beat and abuse the labourers, if they failed to complete the work of cutting the sugarcane. Although the labourers promised the owner that they would complete all tasks sincerely, and in returns he should not abuse and physically torture them, the owner continued abusing them.
On several occasions the labourers requested the owner that they wanted to stop work and return to their village. But the owner used to ask them to repay advance money, which was already paid to them, and an additional amount of Rs 1.45 lakh. As they could not oblige, the laboueres continued to be threatened. So it was a worst situation for all the labourers being in another state far from the home in bondage and living like slaves.
Liberation from bondage and dignified rehabilitation
The Jan Sahas team coordinated with SP of Anti Trafficking Unit of Madhya Pradesh and also with officials in Karnataka. It travelled to Banglore on January 14, 2015 to reach the place along with Sundarlal (father of one of the bonded labourers). With the help of IJM and CID, the Bangalore Jan Sahas team was able to trace the location, which was at Petlur village of Bagalkot district of Karnataka. On the same day, the team travelled to that place and identified the labours and rescued all of them.
An FIR was lodged under the Bonded Labour Act and other relevant Acts in the police station against contractor, and legal processes were take up for liberation certificate in Tehsil office. Other legal process for rehabilitation and cases were taken up with SP of Madhya Pradesh and SP Karnataka. Electronic and print media covered the rescue operation and detailed process of liberation of bonded labours.
Finally, the Government of Karnataka provided police protection to the released bonded labour as well as to the Jan Sahas team up to the state border. The Jan Sahas team had a meeting with the Khargone district collector, SP, the additional SP, the labour officer and media. The Government of Karnataka provided the release certificate to nine labourers, including male and female.
Now the Jan Sahas team is working on the social and economic rehabilitation of the liberated bonded labours with the help of the State Rural Livelihood Mission, Madhya Pradesh, even as working on Indira Awas and land schemes. Also, under the provision of the Bonded Labour Act, 1976, compensation of Rs 20,000 is under process for the released labourers.
*Senior activist, Jan Sahas, Madhya Pradesh