A group of 52 bonded labourers, including 4 children and 17 women were rescued from a ginger farm in Savanakanahalli, Dudda Hobli, Hassan taluk of Karnataka, recently. The labourers were abused physically and mentally, the women sexually harassed and the children beaten. All of them unlawfully detained for the past three years. They were rescued on 16th December 2018, by a team of police personnel headed by Hassan Superintendent of Police (SP). The police have arrested four people in the case, among the five accused and FIRs have been lodged under sections 323, 324 (wrongful confinement), 344 (theft), 354 (sexual harassment) of the Indian Penal code (IPC), Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act (BLSA) and the SC, ST (Prevention of Atrocities Act).
The bonded labourers hail from 16 different districts in Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. During enquiries, the rescued labourers informed the police that they were made to stay in small huts with no facilities. They had no access to toilets and could not visit the hospital if they fell ill. They were also being paid no wages, were locked in during the nights and subjected to verbal and physical abuse. The women particularly were sexually harassed. The labourers were kept in inhumane conditions, locked through the night and were taken to the worksite in maestri’s (headman’s) vehicles. None of them were allowed to even use the toilets at night. When the labourers pleaded with the maestri, he fixed a plastic pipe to one of the corners of the shed (where all 52 were housed) in which they had to pass urine. Even women had the same arrangement.
On December 16th, the SP and Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) led the rescue team and ensured the FIR was filed on the same day. The rescued labourers were provided accommodation at a social welfare hostel. Swift arrests were made and 164 statements were recorded in a timely manner. The Labour Department was officially informed and the Labour Inspector and his team arrived on the spot and initiated the process of back wages immediately. The AC has been proactive not only in this case but to combat this crime in his jurisdiction. The labourers currently await RCs and initial rehabilitation.
The Karnataka State Government has led some valuable and ground-breaking initiatives that work towards combating Bonded Labour. In 2008, the state government’s Rural Development and Panchayat Raj (RDPR) Department released a Karnataka State Action Plan (KSAP) that outlined details of the procedures to be followed in Bonded Labour cases. The Amended KSAP was released in November 2018. It provides the detailed procedures on new Amendments such as Central Sector Scheme and also circulates amended forms that take into consideration the changing nature of Bonded Labour. As per information released by the Ministry of Labour & Employment, Govt. of India, in July this year, the number of bonded labourers identified and released in Karnataka since 1976 is 66,281 and the amount the state of Karnataka has utilized towards the rehabilitation of bonded labourers in 2017 – 2018 is Rs. 150 lakhs.