91 bonded labourers rescued from Rajouri district, Jammu & Kashmir – ActionAid India
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91 bonded labourers rescued from Rajouri district, Jammu & Kashmir

Date : 31-Dec-2019

New Delhi, 31 Dec | Twenty-four families making up 91 men, women and children were rescued from brick kilns in two locations in Rajouri tehsil, Rajouri district of the Jammu region of the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir and brought to Delhi and are looking for the way back home in Chhattisgarh. 41 of the group are children, some of whom were forced into bonded labour.

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.

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 29th December 2019 and are waiting for the means to get back home in Chhattisgarh.  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.

“We had a very difficult life there,” recalls Bhubaneswari Kumari Khute (27). Narrating the suffering that the bonded labourers had to go through, she further adds, “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, has been working at 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, Bhubaneswari states, “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.”

While thankful for the timely action of the district administration in rescuing the bonded labourers, there needs to be proper implementation of the standard operating procedures of rescuing bonded labourers to ensure that they are given the due rehabilitation package so they do not get sucked back into bonded labour and inhuman exploitation and oppression.

India has ratified international conventions and has put in place national policies and programmes to deal with forced labour, including the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, and supported by labour legislation such as the Contract Labour Act of 1970, the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, the Minimum Wages Act. And the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986 prohibits all forms of labour undertaken by children. However significant gaps exist in the implementation of these laws, and more effective action is required towards the effective implementation of these programmes and policies with greater accountability. While the Bonded Labour Act has proved effective in rescuing workers from bondage, convictions are rare, also does not take into account neo-bondage. New patterns of bondage can also be seen in large and small scale commercial agriculture, where seasonal unemployment has led to conditions of bondage involving the debt based attachment of casual and migrant workers as it forces labourers to take advances against their salaries leading them into a debt trap with low wages and exploitative conditions of repayment.  Further, rehabilitation packages need to be made more comprehensive and effective, to ensure rescued bonded labour are not sucked back into forms of unfree labour and bonded labour.

Multi-pronged action is required to catalyse transformative change to eradicate bonded labour. This includes action at the level of the individual, ensuring economic empowerment and awareness of rights of landless labour; at the level of the community creating social norms supportive of all forms of unfree labour and access to justice; at the level of institutions ensuring improved capacity of duty bearers and the adoption of a pro-active approach supporting the eradication of bonded labour. At the macro-level we need to set up regional coalitions, networks for knowledge, policy/advocacy and replication of actions to ensure source states and destination states work together on the issue of eradicating bonded labour.  Action is needed to ensure the promotion of decent work through enforcement of minimum wages, collective wage fixation and basic social security and the promotion of strong workers organizations.

We all need to work together to eradicate bonded labour from our country.

Contact for more information:

For ActionAid Association: Joseph Mathai | mathai.joseph@actionaid.org | 9810188022

For Human Rights Law Network: Sneha Mukherjee | 9999602308

For National Campaign Committee for Eradication of Bonded Labour: Pulkeet Mehra | findyourrasta@rastafdn.org | 7042377889