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This goshala maintains welfare of cows by bonding labour

The megaliths of the IT hub tower over a sprawling campus where hundreds of cows are looked after. This nook of Mahadevapura harbours a dark secret: the tribal Irular community have allegedly been forced into bonded labour to look after the welfare of cows in the goshala.

On Thursday morning, officials of the district administration and NGO International Justice Mission raided Bangalore Gorakshan Shala close to the Outer Ring Road and rescued 15 people. Of these, 11 were labourers — including a 13-year-old child — who had been forced into labour for a meagre pay.

The remaining four were children, some younger than three years old, who stayed in the damp and unhygienic quarters.
Case booked

The Mahadevapura police have booked a case under the Bonded Labour and Child Labour Acts against Kishanlal Kotari and others from the trust that run the goshala.

According to the police, the workers, all from the village of Rayakottai in Krishnagiri district of Tamil Nadu, were kept in a vicious cycle of eternal debt: the more they worked, the more debt they piled up.

Raja, 35, was working in the goshala for three years, having been lured into the job by his uncle who subsequently fled from the place. During the time he worked, the debts of his family — his wife and their three-year-old daughter — rose to over Rs. 70,000, when he took an advance of Rs. 30,000 to pay for a previous debt.
Cycle of debt

He explained the cycle of debt: the goshala would “give” him and his wife a salary of Rs. 7,200 and Rs. 6,100 per month respectively, assuming they worked all days between 4 a.m. and 6.30 p.m. This salary would then be “adjusted” based on an advance and the interest. “The interest would be so high that we would get only Rs. 1,200 in hand. I was forced to take more loans from the supervisor to feed my family. This would be adjusted from the salary next month, after which I had to take more money,” said Raja.

A year ago, to escape the cycle of debt and humiliating work conditions, he fled the goshala and returned to Rayakottai only to find that his father had been entrapped by the same goshala to pay off the family debt. On hearing this, he returned to the goshala in Mahadevpura. “When Raja came to see me, the supervisor detained him and said he had to work until the debt was paid off. Raja was allowed to go only when I offered to step in to repay his debt,” said Chinnakannan, whose wife and eldest son had to work to pay off the “family debt”.
Child labour

For eight months, 13-year-old Sudha (name changed) had to work 13 hours a day collecting cow dung in the facility.

Her mother and father, aged 35, had arrived to the goshala in search of work. In just eight months, the “debt” accumulated was Rs. 60,000.

“When we wanted to leave, we were threatened by those in the goshala. They threatened to cut my husband’s hands and remove my kidney to pay off the debt,” said Sudha’s mother.

M.K. Jagadeesh, Assistant Commissioner of Bengaluru Urban, said there were a few more Irulars in the goshala who were not willing to come out.

“We have sent a notice to the goshala, while a criminal case is being investigated by the police,” he said.

Bangalore Gorakshan Shala Trust, which runs the centre (reportedly with an annual budget of over Rs. 2.5 crore and whose members are parts of boards of a prominent hospital in the city) was unavailable for comment.