They work in inhuman conditions so that the city can have malls and multiplexes. Sarada Lahangir reconstructs the horrifying experiences of women at construction sites and brick kilns
When Basumati Suna (21) stepped off the train at the Titlagarh railway station near her home in the tribal belt of Orissa last September, her joy knew no bounds. She felt she could finally breathe again, after having led the life of bonded labourer at a brick kiln in Bangalore.
What many don’t realise is the role played by middlemen in the dismal tableau. These agents are constantly profiting from the poverty, helplessness and illiteracy of tribal migrants. They readily advance money, even to the tune of Rs 20,000, and then force them to live and work in the most oppressive of conditions. This even leads — as is evident from Basumati’s case — to situations of bondage and slavery. Many die of serious ailments without any recourse to medical help. Clearly, though, it is the women who suffer the most in such situations. They are faced with innumerable problems, including having to give birth and care for children in a hostile environment.
As for national initiatives ostensibly designed to discourage distress migration — like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) — they are not having the desired impact. Umi Daniel, Head, Migration Thematic Unit, Aide et Action, says: “These so-called poverty alleviation schemes are not being properly implemented in the areas that need them most, like Bolangir.”