Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Mafia Controls 500 Cr. Bonded Labour Market In Odisha

By Pranav Deb | Bhubaneshwar

EXCLUSIVE A strong mafia controls bonded slavery in Odisha and almost 3 lakh people are trafficked out of the state every year. The mafia controls the illegal labour market worth over Rs 500 crore with an iron grip.

For people like Nilambar Majhi and Dialu Nial there is no option other than bonded labour. Both belong to families of landless labourers in Kalahandi, and are ideal victims for the middlemen for labour contractors.

One such middleman told INN Live how families are loaned Rs 10-15,000 for medical treatment or a marriage. Unable to repay, they fall into the bonded labour trap and then entire families are forced to work year after year in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
"If the labourers take money and do not go to work then it's our job to threaten them and even beat them up to go to Andhra and Karnataka. We are paid Rs 1,000 per head of labourer sent as commission from the contractor," said an agent who refused to be identified.

Bonded labourers are treated virtually as slaves. They are poorly fed, over-worked and unpaid. Many laborers revealed how anyone trying to escape or protest faced brutal violence.

"My daughter-in-law was pregnant and still she was forced to work. When I protested boiling water was thrown on me by the brick kiln owner," said bonded labourer Sabitri Kumbhar.

There are about 1,500 middlemen active in Bolangir district of Odisha alone, feeding an illegal labour market worth over Rs 500. For a status check, INN Live went to Kantabangi railway station in Bolangir, the hub of such labour trafficking. 

Hundreds of bonded labourers were seen sitting with their children in the cold, right next to the railway police station with the middlemen and contractor's musclemen guarding them. The police do nothing and sources say that local politicians across parties protect the mafia.

"The dalals (middlemen) and contractors are closely related to the mainstream political parties here and they fully protect them," says Ajit Panda, a social activist on bonded labourers in Nuapada.

Rural employment guarantee schemes are poorly managed and corrupt with Odisha's Labour Minister also helpless in the face of the nexus.

"I agree if the authorities are not hand in gloves these sort of things would not have happened. I would ensure the law which already exist on this is properly implemented and if required new provisions would be added in the law over the issue," Odisha Labour Minister Bijayshree Routray says.

It's because of the nexus between the middlemen, local police and the politicians that bonded labour problem is thriving in Odisha and no matter how much money the government spends on several welfare schemes like NREGA, these poor labourers continue to suffer.

Bonded labourers hands chopped for refusing to work
The hands that used to feed their family is no more and they now literally depend on others to get fed. The hands of two migrant bonded labourers were chopped off in the Kalahandi district just because they refused to work. The labourers, Dialu Nial is just 19 years and Nilambar Majhi is 35 years old.

On 15 October a labour contractor Parame and five of his associates after keeping Dialu and Nilambar captive for a week in a house, took them to a nearby jungle in Kalahnadi district and chopped off their right hands one by one. They had taken Rs 14,000 each from the contractor but and refused to go to work in a brick kiln in Andhra Pradesh.

"They asked us whether you want your one hand or one leg to be chopped off. We pleaded that we are willing to work for them for ten years to repay the loan. But they didn't listen and first chopped Nilambar's hand in front of me and then mine," Dialu said.

While in train to Andhra Pradesh dispute aroused between the contractor and the labourers over the distribution of the paid money and 10 of them got off from the train. Dialu and Nilambar were left back in the train and were taken captive by the labour contractor. 

The contractor made phone call to Nilambar's family and demanded Rs two lakh for their release and threatened to kill them if they failed to give the amount. The family pleaded them to release them and told him that they are too poor to pay the amount.

"I said we are too poor to return you the money immediately. But when they forced me to opt between a hand and a leg, I said to spare my leg and chop my hand instead. After chopping our hands they put our blood ' ticka' on their forehead and returned to their van to drink more alcohol and we escaped and walked a long distance to finally admit ourselves in Kalahandi district hospital," Nilambar said.

The next day the family lodged a complaint before the local police station, SP, Collector and the district labour officer with a written statement having the mobile numbers of the labour contractor. Two days later their hands were chopped off.

"We had given the numbers of the contractor from which he was making threat calls. But the police did not take our complaint seriously. Had they acted in time, my son could have been saved," lamented Nilambar's father Madhava Majhi.

"The contractor told me over phone that the local police would not help me because they are known to him and my husband would bear the consequences for us going to the police," Manjula Majhi, Nilambar's wife said.

However, the district police refuted the allegations and said they had only one day in between to investigate the complaint before the accused chopped their hands.

"There is no lacuna on our part. We arrested all the culprits including the main culprit on the same night," Kalahandi SP Sarthak Sarangi said.

One day after the incident the Kalahandi police arrested all the six accused involved in the incident and the Odisha government announced a compensation of Rs four lakh each to the victims.

According to a research report there are more than 11 million bonded labourers in India and Odisha is one of the worst affected states. Unfortunately, despite several laws and welfare schemes these poor labourers continue to suffer and are often subjected to such inhuman torture.

Govt Initiative: Combat bonded labour
Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh has written to Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik after INN Live reported how the hands of two young migrant bonded labourers were chopped off in Kalahandi by a labour contractor and his men after they had labourers refused to travel to Andhra Pradesh to work in a brick kiln. Jairam Ramesh in his letter says bonded labour must be combated.

"Keeping politics aside we must acknowledge that Odisha is one of the worst affected states in terms of bonded labour. The National Rural Livelihoods Mission has started special livelihood projects for the rehabilitation of bonded labour. Looking forward to working with the state government to put an end to this horrendous practice," Ramesh said in the letter.

While one of the labourers Dialu Nial is just 19 years, the other Nilambar Majhi is 35.

On October 15, a labour contractor Parame and five of his associates after keeping Dialu and Nilambar captive for a week in a house, took them to a nearby jungle in Kalahnadi district and chopped off their right hands one by one. They had taken Rs 14,000 each from the contractor but and refused to go to work in a brick kiln in Andhra Pradesh.

"They asked us whether you want your one hand or one leg to be chopped off. We pleaded that we are willing to work for them for ten years to repay the loan. But they didn't listen and first chopped Nilambar's hand in front of me and then mine," Dialu said.

While in train to Andhra Pradesh dispute aroused between the contractor and the labourers over the distribution of the paid money and 10 of them got off from the train. Dialu and Nilambar were left back in the train and were taken captive by the labour contractor. 

The contractor made phone call to Nilambar's family and demanded Rs 2 lakh for their release and threatened to kill them if they failed to give the amount. The family pleaded them to release them and told him that they are too poor to pay the amount.

"I said we are too poor to return you the money immediately. But when they forced me to opt between a hand and a leg, I said to spare my leg and chop my hand instead. After chopping our hands they put our blood ' ticka' on their forehead and returned to their van to drink more alcohol and we escaped and walked a long distance to finally admit ourselves in Kalahandi district hospital," Nilambar said.

The next day the family lodged a complaint before the local police station, SP, Collector and the district labour officer with a written statement having the mobile numbers of the labour contractor. Two days later their hands were chopped off.

"We had given the numbers of the contractor from which he was making threat calls. But the police did not take our complaint seriously. Had they acted in time, my son could have been saved," lamented Nilambar's father Madhava Majhi.

"The contractor told me over phone that the local police would not help me because they are known to him and my husband would bear the consequences for us going to the police," Manjula Majhi, Nilambar's wife said.

However, the district police refuted the allegations and said they had only one day in between to investigate the complaint before the accused chopped their hands.

"There is no lacuna on our part. We arrested all the culprits including the main culprit on the same night," Kalahandi SP Sarthak Sarangi said.

One day after the incident the Kalahandi police arrested all the six accused involved in the incident and the Odisha government announced a compensation of Rs 4 lakh each to the victims.

According to a research report there are more than 1.10 crore bonded labourers in India and Odisha is one of the worst affected states. Unfortunately, despite several laws and welfare schemes these poor labourers continue to suffer and are often subjected to such inhuman torture.
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