Daily-wage labourers rescued from Rajouri

KT NEWS SERVICE. Dated: 1/5/2020 2:49:52 PM

JAMMU, Jan 4: 24 families, comprising 91 persons including women and children, who were rescued from brick kilns in two locations of Rajouri district are now waiting in Delhi to be further sent to their homes in Chhattisgarh. 41 of them are children, some of whom were forced into bonded labour.
While their ordeal is still far from over, the rescue happened mainly because of the actions of Ajay, a 25-year old, who had just in February this year been rescued as a bonded labourer from Himachal Pradesh. Not having received a proper rehabilitation package that was due to him, Ajay got again entangled in bonded labour through traffickers who took him from Ballabgarh, Haryana, to Rajouri district of Jammu & Kashmir, on the promise of decent work. Ajay contacted activists from the National Campaign Committee for Eradication of Bonded Labour (NCCEBL), who had organised his rescue from Himachal Pradesh.
According to an activist of the Action Aid, while the rescue was being planned Ajay managed to escape and come to Delhi with Raj Kumar, another bonded labour in Rajouri district. A rescue team was formed with volunteers from Raigarh, Chhattisgarh, activists with the NCCEBL and ActionAid Association (AAA) at Delhi and the two escaped bonded labourers, Ajay and Raj Kumar. Based on letters sent by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Delhi and the NCCEBL, the office of the District Magistrate, Rajouri, Government of Jammu & Kashmir, constituted an enquiry commission under the Assistant Commissioner, Revenue (ADM), Rajouri. Through two raids on 26thand 27th December 2019 the bonded labour were rescued from the employment of the CBK Brick Kiln (Tiranga Brick Kiln) situated at village Dhangri and the BBK Brick Kiln situated at village Sasalkote, in Rajouri tehsil.
With barely enough to survive, the rescued bonded labourers reached Delhi on the night of December 29 last and are waiting for the means to get back home in Chhattisgarh. However, so far none of the rescued bonded labourers have received a release certificate, essential for them to claim the rehabilitation package they are due as rescued bonded labourers.
An activist involved in the rescue work quoted one of the bonded labourers as saying that they had lead a very difficult life working in the brick kilns. 27-year-old Bhubaneswari Kumari Khute was quoted as saying, “We were made to work for 14-15 hours every day under dismal conditions. Our housing conditions were no less miserable. Each time we used to ask our employers for pay, we were abused and told that we have been sold off to them. They just gave us Rs. 500-700 a week which was barely enough to manage the family.” Hailing from Jaijaipur Tehsil of Janjgir Champa district, Chhattisgarh, Bhubaneswari, a mother of a two-year-old girl, was working at the brick kilns since she was a child.
“Last two years, we have been working as bonded labourers. We were moved from one place to another but our suffering never ended. When we asked for our release, we were told to give them Rs. 20 lakh. They had also taken away our Aadhar cards so we couldn’t leave,” says Bhubaneswari.
Now that they have been rescued, the bonded labourers say, “We want our rights and we want the government to support us. We demand that we be paid every single penny for all the work we have done, at the rate of Rs. 600 a day. We want to educate our children so they don’t have to suffer the way we did.”
According to a detailed report in thewire.in, the rescued men, women and children are mostly Dalits and Gond Adivasis and hail from nondescript tribal villages in Chhattisgarh. One of them was quoted in the report as saying that their employer had “bought them for Rs 20 lakhs”.
It said that the daily-wage labourers were forced to work for more than 12 hours a day, often without breaks and proper meals. They were duped by two men, Raju and Raja, who she claimed were zamindars from Chhattisgarh.
Their ordeal began last August. Even before they were forced into bonded labour in the brick kilns, the touts confiscated their cellphones and identification documents like Aadhaar cards. According to the labourers, they were often made to sign blank sheets or other papers, the purpose and contents of which they were not told about, according to thewire.in.
Manisha Bai, from Raveli village in Kabirdham district of Chhattisgarh, said that they first worked for seven months in Jammu. Later, they were taken to Srinagar for five months, followed by another five months in Rajouri. During this entire time, they received little or no wages.
Kishan Lal (27), who comes from the Janjgir-Champa district in Chhattisgarh, said that he would often plead for proper food with his employer. “’How will we work with an empty stomach,’ I used to tell him,” said Lal. However, such pleas went unanswered. The living conditions were also deplorable, workers said. They had no access to clean drinking water or proper clothes, and were forced to live in shanties made of plastic and tins.
An Anti-Slavery International Volunteers for Social Justice report from September 2017 highlighted that 100% of brick moulders were from traditionally marginalised classes and castes and that children made up one-third of the total population in brick kilns – making it ‘the worst form of child labour’ under international law.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that in India, there is no understanding of the bonded labour system, Choudhary Ali Zia Kabir, an advocate with Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) organisation, said. “Anyone who is not being given the minimum amount as per The Minimum Wages Act, 1948 is a bonded labourer because he/she is being exploited by the employers,” Kabir said. “Nearly negligible conviction rates in such cases indicate that the courts and the administration, do not acknowledge it as a crime.”
“Lack of awareness problem is with the lower rung; it can’t be the case with the cabinet secretaries, labour commissioner and labour ministry, they obviously know the law, but they don’t keep the accountability,” highlights Kabir. Apathy and the lack of accountability to hold the administration responsible continues to provide fertile grounds for the exploitation of hundreds, including minors.

 

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