BCom grad helps rescue 14 bonded labourers in Bylakuppe

BENGALURU: A BCom graduate, who had escaped from bonded labour at Bylakuppe in Mysuru district, helped the authorities rescue 14 other labourers forced to work and live in inhuman conditions.
The labourers were rescued last Friday from a ginger farm by the Hunsur district administration and the Bylakuppe Police. The owner of the farm, Umesha B, was arrested and remanded to judicial custody for two weeks.

The owner’s brother Shankar, who also ran the farm, and their brother-in-law Niranjan, who trafficked the labourers, are the co-accused in the case and police are on the lookout for them.

The rescue was made possible by Raghu M Bellary, a BCom graduate, who escaped from the farm two months ago. A native of Gadag, Raghu worked as a computer operator in Gadag and went to Hubballi after a fight with his parents at home. There, he and six other daily wage labourers were approached by Niranjan, who offered them jobs.

“He told us we need to work for only eight hours a day, for which we would receive wages of `350 a day, a house to live in, three good meals and alcohol every night,” Raghu said.

He accepted the job and arrived in Bylakuppe. From the onset, he and other labourers were subjected to brutal conditions. They had to carry out agricultural tasks seven days a week from 6 am until it was too dark to work with only short breaks for frugal meals. They were never paid wages and never allowed to go outside the farm, which was enforced by constant monitoring. They were allowed to bathe only once in two months and were never allowed to speak to their families on phone.

“Every evening, Umesha would abuse and badly beat up at least one labourer without any just cause. Sometimes he would beat us with a motorcycle chain or a stick,” Raghu said. If any of them fell ill they were never allowed to rest but were only given a few tablets and told to keep working. After enduring such conditions for two-and-a-half months, Raghu managed to escape from the farm and reached Hubballi, where he met his parents, his wife and two children for the first time in many months.

At Hubballi, he wanted to rescue the other labourers too and informed of his ordeal to his cousin Harish Pujar, who informed the local community leaders. They in turn informed the authorities. International Justice Mission, an NGO, which works to rescue and rehabilitate bonded labourers, was also part of the rescue.

Twelve other labourers had also escaped from the farm over the last five months. All rescued labourers will be given an initial rehabilitation amount of `20,000 each on Tuesday as per the Central Sector Scheme for Rehabilitation of Bonded Labourer, 2016. They will also be given a release certificate and are entitled to a further compensation of `80,000 each upon conviction of the employer or trafficker.