211 Bonded Labourers Rescued!

211 victims of Bonded Labour, including dependents were rescued from two brick kilns situated in Yelahanka, Bangalore Urban on February 11th, 2020.

The labourers hail from Balangir, Nuapada and Subarnapur Districts in Odisha and Gariaband District in Chhattisgarh. The labourers had been trafficked on the pretext of ‘good jobs’ offering decent wages, comfortable accommodation and only eight hours of work per day. The two brick kilns, about 400 meters apart from each other are owned by two brothers who kept the labourers in bonded conditions of work.

The promises turned out to be false as the labourers soon found themselves trapped in exploitative conditions of bondage – physically and verbally abused, forced to work for 16 - 18 hours a day in the scorching sun and paid paltry wages in exchange for their rigorous labour. The Minimum Wages Act stipulates Rs. 495 per day for eight hours work, however, the labourers were paid only Rs. 200 per week amounting to just Rs. 30 per day. This is way below the minimum wages mandated for a brick kiln worker in Karnataka. They lived in temporary shelters made from a stack of bricks covered with tarpaulin sheets that had just enough space for the labourers to crawl in for meals and sleeping. They had no access to clean, potable water. The water for making bricks had to be used for drinking, cooking and bathing.

The labourers were constantly under strict supervision and scrutiny. On the market day, only one member of each family was taken out in a tractor so that they could buy provisions for their families. The group was given two hours to complete their shopping under the surveillance of the owner’s associates. This was the only time one member of a family, usually the male adults, could go out while the others were never allowed to even step outside. Around 41 children were part of the group and were not permitted to go to school. At both the brick kilns, supervisors and watchmen would constantly watch the labourers and CCTV cameras were also installed to prevent the labourers from escaping. The labourers were trapped in such circumstances of bondage with no freedom of movement and no chances of escape.

Information regarding the case was initially presented to the District Legal Services Authority (DLSA) and DLSA, taking cognizance of the gross violation of the fundamental rights of these labourers, swiftly responded in the case. As a first responder, they initiated the rescue operation with no delay and closely monitored the progress and adherence to legal procedure in this case.

The DLSA also served as an effective point of convergence and accountability in bringing together key departments integral in addressing Bonded Labour in the State. Officials from Police, Revenue, Labour and Social Welfare Departments worked in tandem to ensure requisites in line with the procedure for Bonded Labour Cases was in place. A First Information Report (FIR) was filed within 24 hours of the rescue. Four suspects were taken into police custody on the day of the rescue. The accused were taken into police custody and later remanded to judicial custody after being presented before the Judicial Magistrate. Release Certificates, declaring the labourers free from bondage and absolving their debts/ obligations were issued by the District Administration.

The District Administration also ensured timely arrangements for food, travel and accommodation for the rescued labourers from the time of their rescue till their repatriation. They reached out to the Social Welfare Department to accommodate the survivors till they were repatriated to their native villages. The survivors were provided police protection and in the event of any medical emergency, an ambulance was stationed at the place of their stay. They also ensured a medical examination was done for all the rescued labourers and that their children were vaccinated.
The District Administration also coordinated with the Railways to ensure the survivors were repatriated to their home districts. Two compartments on the train were reserved only for the survivors. The survivors were accompanied by four Officials from the Revenue Department and one official from the Labour Department as they returned home.