43 victims of bonded labour rescued in Bengaluru

All the victims were brought to city five months ago from Odisha and were denied their freedom once they began work at the kiln

Bengaluru, 24 March, 2018: On 22nd March, forty three victims of bonded labour were released from a brick kiln in Bagalur by the Bengaluru North Sub-division of the District Administration and the Bagalur Police. All the bonded labourers hailed from Balangir. The District Administration will be handing over Release Certificates for the victims, paving the way for their rehabilitation. The administration has also provided a temporary lodging at Kodegahalli and is arranging to send labourers back to their home state safely.

The 43 victims belonged to 17 families and were brought to Bengaluru from Odisha five months ago to work at the kiln. The families, from neighbouring villages in Balangir, were first approached in their villages by a sardar or labour contractor who promised them good jobs in Bengaluru, houses to live in and fair wages. The sardar then took the labourers to a second agent who gave each person advances ranging from Rs 10,000 to Rs 23,000 and kept their Aadhar cards as surety. A third sardar then brought them to Bengaluru by train in two batches and left them at a kiln in Bagalur in the custody of the owner.

Once at the brick kiln, all the promises turned out to be false. The families were housed in tiny makeshift sheds made of bricks without any basic facilities like mats to sleep on or toilets. The labourers worked for an average of 20 hours each day more than 6 days a week with only short breaks for meals. The women ended work at 7:00 pm to cook dinner but also had to wake up at 3:00 am to cook breakfast and lunch since no food was provided.

Initial inquiries by the District Administration indicate these labourers were only paid less then Rs 50 per day which means that minimum wages laws were violated. The minimum wage for a brick kiln worker in Karnataka is Rs 294.17 per day. A husband wife team were only paid Rs 600 a week and there were further deductions to this if they did not manage to make 6,000 bricks a week.

The labourers were kept in captivity in the premises and could not leave the brick kiln for personal needs. Two maestri’s and a driver, employed by the brick kiln owner acted as watchmen and they used to keep an eye on the labourers at all times. On Tuesday’s the driver would take one member from each family to the Bagalur market in a truck to buy provisions for the week. None of the labourers were ever allowed to leave the kiln unsupervised.

A 20 year old rescued labourer said, “My brother and I asked the owner to let my sister-in-law go back to Odisha as she is pregnant but he refused. We said we will keep working and also repay her advance but he still did not agree. Another labourer had run away and gone back to Odisha earlier. But he was caught there by the sardar and threatened and beaten. The owner of the brick kiln is in touch with the sardars in Odisha and sometimes makes us talk to them over the phone to frighten us.”

Other labourers also complained that they were not given any medical care or allowed to go out to nearby hospitals when they fell sick or got injured on the job. Although several of them requested to go back to Odisha and also offered to return the advance, they were confined to the brick kiln by the owner and his associates. Denying freedom to labourers due to an advance is illegal as per the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act, 1976. Trafficking labourers for the purpose of exploitation is also illegal as per IPC 370 (Trafficking of Persons) which carries a minimum sentence of 10 years for trafficking more than one labourer.