Abdul Bari Masoud | Caravan Daily
NEW DELHI — While India is vying for a place in the sun, the modern form of slavery still exists in the country as a big chunk of the population falls prey to human traffickers and unscrupulous elements because of starvation and famine like condition in many parts of the country. The latest incident of bonded slavery was reported from Haryana where at least two dozen Dalit labourers along with their families from Bihar were rescued by an NGO.
After being trafficked, these Dalit labourers from Nalanda and Banka districts of Bihar spent 10 months working in Haryana’s Kurukshetra district at the brick kiln named Kamla BKO. The labourers had never even dreamt of being treated as slaves in a state as advanced as Haryana.
With 22 families consisting of almost 80 labourers including women and children receiving just enough food to get by every day, they were forced into bonded labour by one Minku Gupta.
Speaking to Caravan Daily, a rescued bonded labourer, Chotu told that they had fallen prey to human trafficking when they had run out of food to feed to their kids in the absence of other employment opportunities in their native state Bihar.
Narrating their ordeal, he said, “owner and his goons would beat us as if there was no trace of police and administration in Haryana and the miseries of being poor in Bihar were better than this.”
The employer, Minku Gupta not only exploited and took advantage of the vulnerable conditions of these labourers but also harassed and physically assaulted them through goons like Munshi and others as they charged them with Laathis and sticks when the labourers complained of sickness and sought rest or asked to be sent home. They were forced to work for more than 17 hours a day and in return they only received a handful of rice or wheat flour!
The manner in which the brick kiln labourers were exploited at the mills in Independent India and how they were prevented from going home denotes the true picture of a country void of law and order, quipped Advocate Max Gaston while speaking to Caravan Daily who is from New York and works for the NGO Human Rights Law Network (HRLN).
Chotu named two traffickers Jugal and Akhilesh who took advantage of their vulnerabilities and offered them nominal cash and made several empty promises. We used to work on farms earlier, fell prey to these promises and ended up in the clutches of human traffickers, when they were taken to Haryana to work, he added.
Among the rescued women bonded labourers, Manki Bai said that the owner also forced pregnant women to work for 17 hours without allowing them any rest!
Many women started making bricks again just after a few days of delivery but women had to face many problems because of lack of medication, she added.
Another woman Poonam Lahia said that they all were landless labourers and no jobs in the village and most of them belong to the Dalit community. She poignantly said, “We are compelled to take any kind of work for any amount of wages to fill our bellies! We have nothing but slavery as our destiny because of poverty and lack of education!”
Rescued labourer Ajay told that one of his co-workers was beaten on the night of June 27 and since then, he has gone somewhere because of fear and till date, his whereabouts are not known. His wife is pregnant and has no kind of support in this situation.
A child labourer said, “the owner and contractor forced many children to work and on refusal, our parents were beaten up which would make us work under duress.”
The worker’s accountant/supervisor used to give the labourers almost Rs1200-1500 depending on the size of their families every 15 days which was only enough to keep them alive. The labourers wanted to leave the brick kiln mills to go home. But their employer had done everything from trafficking to exploitation and left no stones unturned towards the inhuman treatment of them. Several labourers were wounded while several women and their children suffered due to the inhuman conditions they were made to live in.
Nirmal Gorana, General Secretary BandhuaMuktiMorcha, said the National Campaign Committee and Eradication of Bonded Labourers received the news about the Dalit bonded labourers from Bihar stuck in Kurukshetra, Haryana which led them to send in a complaint to the authorities in Haryana.
On June 28, a team consisting of the National Campaign Committee, Eradication of Bonded Labourers and Human Rights Law Network left for Kurukshetra to free the labourers who had been sold off and trafficked to the Kamla BKO brick kiln.
These labourers were not issued release letters as per the 1976 ruling, nor were they rehabilitated or given the remuneration amount as per the 2016 scheme by BJP led Haryana government.
Advocate Arun Kumar slammed the Haryana government stating that it has done injustice by not issuing release certificates to child bonded labourers who are Maha Dalits.
If the child bonded labourers are not given justice within 15 days from Kurukshetra administration, then the HRLN will knock doors of Chandigarh High Court, he said.
After reaching to Delhi, these labourers approached several agencies that could help in their fight for human rights. After 9 days of struggle, an FIR had been registered against the principal employer at the Pahwathana in Kurukshetra and release certificates had been issued for them but the children working at the brick kilns did not receive the release certificates.
Advocate Gaston said there should be strict compliance of law and Indian Government scheme formulated for Rehabilitation of Bonded Labourers and bonded labourers should also be given shelter till issuance of release certificates.
Referring to the historic judgment on bonded labour by the Supreme Court Justice P.N. Bhagwati, activist Gorana said it would be embarrassing for a country that if one goes by this judgment, at least 50 crore labourers of unorganized sector are bonded labourers (and diseased by it).
Because of the help from foreign students and interns, these labourers will now head home to Bihar, he said.