BONDED LABOUR – New slave trade

fl10_bonded_2_jpg_2448607gThe recent rescue of bonded workers from a Karnataka factory exposes the mutating form of bonded labour in the unorganised sector, where trafficking with the intention to exploit is the major feature. By VIKHAR AHMED SAYEED

FOUR years ago, Aryan Lama, then 17, was working as a driver in Kakarbhitta in Nepal. He intended to marry Roshni, the girl of his dreams. Looking to augment their incomes, the couple reached Siliguri in northern West Bengal where they met an agent who lured them with promises of secure jobs and substantial salaries. Little did they know that they were on their way to becoming bonded labourers in south India. They were brought via Delhi to Tirupattur, a town in Vellore district in Tamil Nadu, where they were put to work in an agarbatti factory.

After a few days, Lama was separated from Roshni, whom he has not seen again. For three years, he laboured in Tirupattur before he was moved to a similar factory on the outskirts of Bangalore. Promised a salary of Rs.6,500 a month, he was given nothing except basic food and a place to sleep. He had to work 18 hours a day and was not allowed to leave the premises of the factory, where he had to share his sleeping quarters with more than 100 other workers.

Lama was finally rescued on May 28, along with 106 other trafficked workers, from the jail-like conditions in which they had been held. Lama told Frontline: “We were not allowed to talk to one another or leave the premises, [which were] guarded by Rottweilers. We were also beaten very regularly. My work was to pack the rolled agarbattis, and the food that they gave us was fit only for pigs!”

The rescue was conducted by a team led by the Karnataka Police’s Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU), including members of an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) called International Justice Mission (IJM). The AHTU is a constituent unit of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) while the IJM works on issues of bonded labour. This was the largest rescue conducted in a single raid in Bangalore. Of the 107 bonded labourers, 43 came from West Bengal and 40 from Assam, while 22 came from Jharkhand and two from Nepal.