By Neha Ravichander
Half a decade of law school later, I graduated quite a bit disillusioned with the Criminal Justice System. I had visited the Central Jail in Bangalore in my final year and was appalled to find that a majority of the people locked up were underprivileged, uneducated and under-trial. The reality of the impunity of the ‘money-ed’ made me sick.
I felt quite contrary one morning recently when I woke up to the news of an arrest in a case where the trial had not even begun, and it made me want to dance. Ravi Kumar* was finally in prison!
May 2016: 55 labourers were rescued from a moving truck. These men, women, and children belonged to the Chenchu tribe of Telangana. Three years ago, they were brought to Rajasthan as construction workers. They were given an advance amount and were promised ₹100 as daily wages. Raghu* was one of them. He came with his wife and young daughter. He had received ₹ 40,000 as an ‘advance’ amount. Little did he realise that ₹40,000 would be a debt that sold him and his young family into slavery. Raghu and his wife worked every day under the hot desert sun, getting a day off only once in 15 days.
They were paid nothing. Any failure to work due to illness would cause ₹200 to be added to the advance amount which surprisingly never reduced. Raghu’s wife delivered a baby in Rajasthan in their second year there. She was not allowed to go home. Nobody could leave. Their children were exposed to cement dust and were not even given proper food. They were not given any safety shoes or gloves and were also victims of physical and verbal abuse. To top it all, they were in a place where they did not speak the local language. Their life was a prison.
After three years, one of the labourers managed to run away and get in touch with a local NGO who informed the Anti Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) in Hyderabad. An FIR was registered, and the AHTU team travelled to Rajasthan. Getting wind of this, the traffickers moved the labourers across the country crossing five states in a truck until they were finally intercepted in Karnataka and rescued.
November 2016: 34 people from Telangana who had been identified as bonded labourers under similar conditions were rescued from Northern Karnataka.
August 2018: 45 bonded labourers were rescued from a construction site in Karimnagar.
Different instances of big groups of people rescued from bonded labour trafficking in different destinations strung together by one common factor – Ravi Kumar. The above are only the reported instances.
This man has been responsible for the trafficking of hundreds of victims from and within the state of Telangana. He had been avoiding arrest and had even been bold enough to source trafficked persons into government projects. Rescue is more bitter than sweet when the tyrant is still free, knows where the victims live and are unafraid of the law, drenched in the arrogance of being privileged and ‘connected’.
This arrest will prevent hundreds of men, women and children from being lured and trapped in the prison of bonded labour trafficking this year. And those already rescued from his clutches will finally live without fear, in true freedom. The arm of the law has reached out not just to save and protect but also to restrain the hands wielding the weapon of injustice.
Although many others, unlike Ravi Kumar, still roam free and unafraid as they continue their unseen modern-day slave trade, this is a small victory in the war on impunity and a reason to have hope.
* Names changed to protect the identity.