By Divya Ruth Jose
Humans have always migrated in pursuit of a better life. Historical migration of human populations began with people moving out of Africa across Eurasia about 1.75 million years ago. Even today, the globalisation has been characterised by the movement of people across borders and oceans, fuelled by several reasons. Most cities in India today are described to be these melting pots of culture and ethnicities, brought together by the pursuit of betterment. For example, I am a Malayalee, brought up in Hyderabad, went to college in Mumbai, and working in Delhi. I am, essentially, a migrant.
Now picture this: a similar, yet starkly different story of migration- you’re looking for work and have run out of options in your town and are desperate to be able to support yourself and your family. Any job will do, as long as it pays. You come to know about the availability of a prospective job in another state. It’s not much, but it will provide for your family. You move and take the job! Except, once you begin working, your employer denies you wages and doesn’t let you leave the work site. While you struggle to come to in terms with this reality, your children don’t get to go to school, you don’t have a place to call your home, and you are in an unfamiliar land with no way to communicate or seek help. Reads like a bad dream, doesn’t it? It’s the reality for many migrants in India.
Ten labourers who moved from Betul in Madhya Pradesh to Tamil Nadu to work at a borewell unit were made similar promises of employment, only to be robbed of their dues and forced to work as bonded labourers. Stranded with no way of escape, they had resigned to their fate. But, help came in the form of a strong rescue team comprising the local police, district administration, and AHTU officials. Not only were the labourers accompanied by officials on their journey back from the Tamil Nadu, these officials coordinated with the Betul administration to ensure the labourers received their release certificates as well as their back wages – money they were owed as a result of the work done at the borewell unit. Further, the labourers were also presented with the initial rehabilitation amount of Rs 20,000 each as announced by the Ministry of Labour & Employment in the revised Bonded Labour Rehabilitation Scheme.
While none of this takes away the pain and trauma of being held against your will and forced to work in bondage, this is an encouraging story of a sensitised and responsive public justice system in what was undeniably a case of abuse and exploitation. The freedom to move is a fundamental right as enshrined in our Constitution, and with an effective public justice system, it can be a reality for migrants all over our country. A functioning public justice system is the only way we can end violence, and make justice for the many being exploited and abused, possible.