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Amidst govt inaction: Over 400 MP Adivasis 'escape' bondage in Maharashtra, Karnataka

Counterview Desk 

Led by the civil rights group, Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS), thousands of Madhya Pradesh Adivasis vowed to lead “constitutional struggle” against violence and exploitation on the occasion of International Labour Day at Barwani, demanding to expand the scope of the National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREGA), raising NREGA wages to Rs 600 a day in view of rising prices.
A JADS statement said, the Adivasis, many of whom are farmers, also demanded legally enforced MSP established at 1.5 times the total cost of production (C2+50%) as recommended by the Swaminathan Commission.

Text:

On May 2, 2022, over 1,500 Adivasi women and men of Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan organized a rally and an aam sabha to mark the International Labour Day by collectively declaring their intent to continuously and constitutionally wage struggles against brutal exploitation and violence, to assert their right to a dignified life.
A large number of Adivasis in the region are being pushed into bonded labour due to indebtedness and poverty that stem from the rampant agrarian crisis and increasing unemployment. 
Over 400 Adivasis have recently escaped bondage and returned to their homes and have submitted complaints to the District Administration and Police, demanding action against illegal contractors and factory owners who forced them into bondage. However, no action has been taken on these complaints so far by the administration.
As the ongoing agrarian crises leads to burgeoning debts for households, increasing unemployment and rapidly shrinking opportunities of education are pushing young Adivasi families to migrate in search for work. Illegal contractors and factory owners of industries like sugar mills, taking advantage of this situation, entrap Adivasis into bondage.
Contractors come to Adivasi villages, offer debts in the form of an advance amount, promising that these debts, ranging from Rs 30,000-40,000 per couple can be paid off in just three months. They also promise workers that they would additionally be able to earn an additional income.
However, in reality, workers are forced to work without pay for 14-16 hours every day. Even after three months, they are given no accounts of the work done by them or the wages due to them; instead, they are forced to work for as long as the contractor or factory owners demand of them.
Recently, in just three months, over 400 Adivasis have escaped from bonded labour in Maharashtra and Karnataka and returned to Barwani. In their complaints made to the Barwani district administration and police, it was revealed that workers are forced to work for 14-16 hours a day continuously while living out in the open, in makeshift tents of plastic sheets. Workers are regularly denied medical care, and are forced to work through illness or injuries. Such conditions have even resulted in deaths of infants in some instances.
Women, who not only work for 14-16 hours on sugarcane fields, also look after their families while living and working in extremely insecure and harsh conditions, further face sexual violence by contractors. Women and minor girls have reported kidnapping and rape by contractors but no action has been taken by governments and administration against perpetrators of such violence.
Despite written complaints to the Barwani district administration and police regarding these atrocities, state governments (of MP and the states where workers migrated to) and the district administration remain mute spectators to the exploitation of Adivasi workers.
Further, the district administration and state governments attempt to deny or refuse to take cognizance of this large scale trafficking and entrapment of Adivasi workers into bondage, which is a cognizable offence under the Bonded Labour System Abolition Act, Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, the Prevention of Atrocities Act and the Indian Penal Code.
Adivasi women and men highlighting the main causes behind the ongoing, large scale forced migration, in a memorandum submitted to the Chief Minister, Madhya Pradesh, further demanded that government implement the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission.
They reiterated that the government must establish the minimum support price to be 1.5 times the total cost of production (C2+50%) for all major (24) crops and, that this minimum support price be legally enforced. Further, Adivasis also demanded that the government actively procure and subsequently distribute grains other than rice and wheat, i.e Pulses, Oilseeds, and Millets through the Public Distribution System (PDS).
Highlighting that the recent increase in NREGA wages, which currently stands at Rs.204 a day in Madhya Pradesh, is inadequate in proportion to the rapidly increasing cost of living, and yet even these wages are being denied to workers through fraudulent ‘valuation’ by the administration, drastically exacerbating the situation.
Criticizing the government and the administration attempts to wilfully weaken NREGA instead of strengthening it, Adivasis demanded that the government instead, strengthen NREGA by guaranteeing work for more than 100 days, and increase the wages to at least Rs 600 a day.
In submitting their demands to the state government and the district administration, Adivasis also publicly affirmed their intentions to lead struggles to achieve their demands as they work to achieve and assert their right to a dignified life.

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