Skip to main content

Bonded labour? 250 Madhya Pradesh migrants rescued, govt response 'evasive'

Counterview Desk 

Claiming that young Adivasi families are being pushed into bonded labour as the rural economy crisis deepens, Madhya Pradesh (MP) civil rights group Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS) has brought to light the case of 250 workers from the State who were being subjected to what it calls "exploitative and violent" conditions in Maharashtra and Karnataka.
In a media communique, JADS regrets, while it facilitated their rescue with active police support, there has not been any legal action against the culprits. "All workers who have come back have demanded that the administration prosecute guilty contractors and factory owners, and ensure that the workers are paid all the wages due to them for three to four months of back-breaking work. The response by the administration is evasive", it adds.

Text:

Farming crisis, indebtedness, unemployment, rampant inflation and denial of education opportunities are combining to uproot young Adivasi families and force them to migrate as far as Karnataka and South Maharashtra to work in conditions amounting to bonded labour.
Over the past two weeks around 250 workers and children have been safely brought back after police complaints of violence and exploitation. While the Barwani police helped in their return, they have, as yet, taken no action against the perpetrators. However social workers in Belagavi have helped one group of workers register cases there.
This large-scale displacement of thousands can be witnessed all across Adivasi districts of western MP. Capitalizing on their desperation for work, illegal ‘contractors’ working for sugar industries in Karnataka and Maharashtra give Adivasi households a loan of around Rs 30,000-40,000 in the lean summer months in exchange for work in the cane fields supplying the sugar factories.
After Dushhera, they are taken from their villages to these fields, where everyone, including pregnant women and excluding only infants, work at harvesting the cane and loading them onto trucks for 13-20 hours a day, from dawn till late night, often till 1 am. The workers are not paid, and when they ask for their hisaab­ – valuation of their work and wages earned, they are simply told to keep working and the contractor will decide when the work is ‘finished’ or the debt is repaid.
Since January 18, Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan has helped workers or their relatives file complaints in Pati PS and with the Barwani district administration, regarding the harrowing conditions of workers in Belagavi and Bagalkot districts of Karnataka and Satara, Kolhapur and Pune districts of Maharashtra, and their urgent demand that they be helped to return.
Workers were often threatened and abused when they asked for “hisaab” and said they wanted to return. In Belagavi, when a group of workers asked for "hisaab", three of them were locked up as “hostages” in a factory of Nirani Sugars. It was only after persistent demands were made to Barwani and Belagavi administration, that the workers were released after 6 days of captivity.
The group was summarily evicted from the village to stop them from taking legal action. Workers in Belagavi, Bagalkot, Kolhapur and Satara had their phones snatched by contractors to prevent them from informing anyone of their situation. Similarly, to stop workers in Satara from leaving with police help, the contractors and local farmers tried to stir up a ruckus at the local police station. Finally, by February 12, Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan, with the help of activists and social organizations in Belagavi and Pune, and involvement of Barwani Police (especially PS Pati), managed to secure the return of over 250 workers.

Bonded labour, exploitation and sexual violence:

Many such workers are taken to harvest and load sugarcane for sugar factories in Maharashtra and Karnataka – by ‘contractors’ employed by sugar factories. Facing near starvation conditions, families incur a debt of Rs. 30,000-40,000 per family and, in return, young couples agree to work in the sugarcane fields from October onwards.
Their work begins at the break of dawn, at about 5-6 am, and continues until dusk at 5-6 pm, harvesting the sugarcane. Thereafter, they are made to load this cane into vehicles, a task that goes on until 10-11 pm in the night, sometimes even up till 1 am at night.
Despite working for ‘two person days’ and up to 20 hours, workers hardly ever earn anything near the statutory minimum wages. They are entirely the mercy of the ‘contactor’ who arbitrarily decides the duration and conditions of their work. In complete violation of the law on interstate migration, these ‘contractors’ are not licensed; they do not register workers, do not maintain or provide workers with proper accounts.
Workers are threatened, abused, even raped. Last month, workers from Jhirnia tehsil, Khargone managed to escape and returned home to report continuous rape of 6 women and girls, in addition to forced bonded labour. It was only after three weeks’ efforts by the workers and activists that an FIR was even registered. No action has been taken on the FIR to this day.

Inaction on blatant legal violations allowing unhindered trafficking and exploitation of Adivasis:

Forcing workers to work for unspecified periods of time, without payment of wages, or wages less than the notified minimum wages in exchange for a debt, is bonded labour according to the Bonded Labour (Abolition) System Act, and a cognizable offence.
Further, forcing an Adivasi to do bonded labour is also an atrocity under the SC-ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The illegalities do not end there. The Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, 1979 stipulates that the ‘contractor’ must be a licensed one, and that he must ensure that the workers he employs are registered with both state governments, the state from which they belong, as well as the state where they work.
It is also the responsibility of the contractor to ensure that they are provided with a ‘passbook’ to record the details of their work and wages received, that they are paid timely wages, above the notified minimum wages, and, that they are provided adequate facilities of accommodation, water and sanitation. Thus, these illegal contractors are in effect, human traffickers, trafficking Adivasis into bonded labour and servitude – cognizable offences under Section 370 and 374 of the IPC.
The National Human Rights Commission, which has been mandated by the Supreme Court to oversee the implementation of the Bonded Labour System Act, has also issued clear directions to the District Magistrates and state governments for the rescue and rehabilitation of Bonded Labourers.
Further, it also directs officials to investigate other offences under the SC-ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, the POSCO Act, violations of the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, and the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 and act upon them, accordingly. However, the inaction of State governments only serves to provide sanction to these contractors and employers that continue to violently exploit these workers as bonded labourers.
All workers who have come back have demanded that the administration prosecute guilty contractors and factory owners, and ensure that the workers are paid all the wages due to them for three to four months of back-breaking work. The response by the administration is evasive.
Adivasis are all too familiar with government apathy and in fact, even with brutal violence. In September 2021, two Adivasis were killed as a result of police custodial torture within a week of each other, in the neighbouring districts of Khargone and Khandwa. 5 months later, no action has been taken against the culprits in either case.
On one hand, the ruling BJP tries to gain favour with Adivasis by honouring anti- British tribal heroes like Birsa Munda, Tantia Bhil, and Bheema Nayak in Madhya Pradesh – Rs 23 crore were of Tribal Welfare Department funds (which could have been put to more constructive use) were squandered on the Prime Minister’s Bhopal program on Birsa Jayanti.
On the other hand, the descendants of these heroes continue to face very much the same exploitation as their ancestors under the British. The workers, along with Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan, now plan to lead a campaign demanding prosecution of guilty contractors and factory owners, along with payment of their unpaid wages from the district administration and the State government.

Comments

TRENDING

'Halt Covid-19 vaccination drive': Indian doctors join campaign across 36 nations

By Rosamma Thomas*  A group of Spanish doctors first got together to call for a halt to the Covid-19 vaccinations, and doctors from other countries too later joined them – there are now over 12,000 doctors from India, Portugal, Canada, Hungary, South Africa, Israel and a host of other nations who have issued a call to halt vaccinations. On September 10, a group of Indian doctors came together to address the press over a webinar to explain why they thought the vaccination drive should end forthwith. Dr Amitav Banerjee, who after a career as an epidemiologist in the Indian Army now teaches at a private medical college in Pune, said there was no longer a medical emergency. Children are at low risk of infection, and there is good reason to halt vaccination and conduct proper research, given the high number of adverse events. There is a sudden and poorly explained spike in the number of young and healthy people dying. While it may be impossible to attribute deaths entirely to the vaccinatio

Did Mother Teresa trivialise poverty? 'You are suffering, that means Jesus is kissing you'

By Harsh Thakor*  The world commemorated the 25th death anniversary of Mother Teresa on September 5. Whatever her flaws, she rendered service to humanity in regions almost untranscended, resembling the relentless spirit of the waves of an ocean. Irrespective of community or religion, she offered her service. Even those not drawn by sainthood revere the role of Mother Teresa. For 68 years, she had worked selflessly and tirelessly in India and elsewhere in the world, taught the destitute, healed the sick, fed and clothed the poor, cared for abandoned children, housed lepers and those afflicted with HIV/AIDS and offered dignity in death to desolate persons abandoned by family and society. Mother Teresa was born in Skopje in 1910 to an Albanian family as AnjezĂ« Gonxhe Bojaxhiu. She became wedded to religious vows at an early age and moved to India to join the missionary work of the Catholic Church. Heartshaken by the misery faced by the Indian masses, in 1950 she set up her own

Tracing roots of Hindutva Zionism: cannon fodder for 'warped' nationalist pretensions

By Shamsul Islam*  Those who believe in a world free of hegemonic ethno-nationalism, racism, religious bigotry and hatred have rightly taken note of Zionism and its ally Christian Zionism, major perpetrators of ethnic cleansing of ‘Others’. However, the civilized world with its core belief in multi-culturalism and peaceful co-existence is oblivious to a no less dangerous threat to the present human civilization: the Hindutva Zionism. As the term reads it is part of the Hindutva world-view which stands for an exclusive Hindu India minus Muslims and Christians. The other religions like Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism will have no independent status but treated as part of Hinduism. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS; National Volunteer Organization) is the most prominent flag-bearer of the Hindutva politics whose cadres presently rule India, the largest democracy in the world. RSS was founded by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar (1889-1940) in 1925 who was disillusioned with the Indian freedom st

Regional parties, anti-Congress progressives, civil society groups 'joining' Bharat Jodo

By Harshavardhan Purandare, Sandeep Pandey*  The Congress party declared Bharat Chhodo (Quit India) movement against the British regime in 1942. The Congress party has now launched a movement Bharat Jodo (Connecting and Uniting India) against the Modi regime in 2022. Indian people have had a journey of 80 years since Mahatma Gandhi gave that Quit India call to the British and we have to agree that we stand most divided in our modern history when Rahul Gandhi is giving this Bharat Jodo call to the nation. And back then, Congress was a thriving idealistic political movement against the British rulers and now it is an ever weakening political organization electorally defeated several times. However, it is India at stake, not just the Congress party. That is why so many regional political parties, civil society organizations, traditional anti-Congress progressive forces like socialists and communists, intellectuals and civil servants have declared their support and are proactively partici

Shocking? No Covid vaccine trials conducted on pregnant, lactating women: RTI reply

By Rosamma Thomas*  A Right to Information applicant who sought details of safety trials conducted in India on pregnant and lactating women for three Covid vaccines in use in India – Covishield, Covaxin and ZyCov-D -- was shocked to learn from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) that Serum Institute, manufacturer of Covishield, and Cadila Healthcare, manufacturer of the ZyCov-D vaccine, had not sought permission for such trials.  Bharat Biotech, manufacturer of Covaxin, had sought permission for trial on pregnant women and later withdrawn its application. This response , provided after the applicant was initially unsatisfied with the response and went in appeal, is from the joint drugs controller, CDSCO. It was dated September 13, 2022. One researcher closely following the vaccine rollout, however, is of the opinion that the lack of a trial on pregnant and lactating women is a blessing; potential trial participants and their unborn babies thus escaped harm. Aruna Ro

Grave error? Scholar blames ex-Gujarat babu for anti-Christian riots 'citing fake report'

By Rajiv Shah  A few days back, I received a message from one of the finest former Gujarat government bureaucrats, PG Ramrakhiani, a 1964 batch IAS official, who retired in November 2000. I would often interact with him in 1997-99, even later, after I was sent to Gandhinagar as a Times of India man to cover Sachivalaya. Those were turbulent times. Shankarsinh Vaghela was the Gujarat chief minister, under attack from two sides – from the BJP, which he had left to form a separate breakaway party, Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP), one one hand, and the Congress, which was supporting him from outside, on the other. Ramrakhiani, in his message, referred to the book authored by Ghanshyam Shah and Jan Breman, both top-notch scholars who have known Gujarat in and out. Called “Gujarat, Cradle and Harbinger of Identity Politics: India’s Injurious Frame of Communalism”, I reviewed the book in January 2022.  It claims that Muslims in Gujarat have been turned into “new untouchables”, thanks to the Hin

Excess to cheetah in Kuno to increase 'woes' of local people, 'disturb' wildlife balance

Bharat Dogra*  The release of eight cheetahs into the Kuno National Park ( Madhya Pradesh) by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 17, although accompanied by a media blitz, has raised several questions. The animals were flown from Namibia to Gwalior and from there they were taken to the release site in a helicopter. Official sources have stated that this is the first time a large carnivorous species has been moved across continents for establishing a new population. This first release will be followed by others under this project. However, precisely for this reason, it is important to be cautious because if such translocations have been generally avoided in the past, there may have been reasons for this and at the same time we do not have much learning experiences from the past. The Cheetah became extinct in India in 1952, although this very fast moving animal is still remembered in the folklore of many areas. Hence the first impulse is to say that trying to introduce and revive

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Introducing non-native cheetahs is 'not equivalent' to restoring pride in the nation

By Bappaditya Mukhopadhyay*  The Cheetahs from the African continent has finally been introduced to India by the Indian Prime Minister on his 72nd birthday. The process had started with the previous Government in 2009. However, the Supreme Court clearance was pending owing to the objection by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) plea to reintroduce cheetahs. Finally the clearance was obtained in January 2020 and thereafter Kuno National Park (KNP) was chosen for the reintroduction of first set of Southeast African Cheetahs. In the near future, depending upon the success story of the current reintroduction, more cheetahs from South Africa may also be introduced. This exercise has generated a lot of interest among various stakeholders with opinions on both sides galore. It is important to pose some questions that surround the whole exercise. Let us evaluate some of these arguments. The first set of arguments are quite detached from the issues of conservation as they most

'Military diplomacy': US praises Bangladesh Army for leadership role in UN operations

By Kamal Uddin Mazumder* As the Indo-Pacific region represents the world’s economic and strategic center of gravity, the Indian Ocean today is becoming the centerpiece of all geo-strategic play. Cooperation in the region is crucial to implementing the international community’s global agenda, including achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Major powers like the US have enhanced and deepened their strategic engagement and leadership roles with countries in the region. The Indo-Pacific Army Management Seminar, or IPAMS, is a U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) initiated conference that is aimed at facilitating and enhancing interactions among the armies of the Indo-Pacific region. This year's 46th Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS)-2022, co-hosted by the Bangladesh Army and US Army Pacific (USARPAC), concluded in Dhaka. The objective of IPAMS is to promote peace and stability in the region through mutual understanding, dialogue, and friendship. It is the largest confer