Saturday, September 3, 2016

He becomes a bonded labourer, this time by choice

Chandra Dharua with his family at their Badadakla village­home in Tureikela block of Odisha’s Bolangir district. When Chandra Dharua, a 48­year­old man from Odisha’s Bolangir district, was rescued from 22­year­long bondage in Andhra Pradesh three years ago, he had vowed not to look back on a life of torturous ordeal in brick kilns. However, it did not take even one year for his resolve to melt. With government apathy and lack of employment dashing his hopes, he along with his family members has accepted bondage again. Now he is negotiating with labour intermediaries for a better deal (higher debt amount) for migrating to distant places in either Andhra Pradesh or Telengana. Official documents of Medak district, now in Telengana, had identified him and his family members for being bonded labourers for 22 years. However, it has failed to evoke any sympathy for him in his native state of Odisha. In the past three years, Chandra has received only 90 kg of rice, a humanitarian assistance of Rs.900 from the sarpanch of his village and Rs.21,500 out of Rs.48,500 for house building support sanctioned in his name by the State government.

As per the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, bonded labourers are entitled for an assistance of Rs.20,000. Both Central and State governments share the amount equally. Since Chandra, his wife and his daughter were rescued from bonded labour, they were entitled to get Rs.60,000. But they have not received anything till now. When asked why he decided to return to a place where a brick manufacturer wanted them to toil under terrible working conditions, he retorted: “Do I have any other option here? I could not plough my 90 decimal of land as I did not have a pair of bullocks. Engagement in agriculture is seasonal. Rest of the year, it is difficult to arrange two square meals a day.” Chandra and his family members had taken an advance (debt) of Rs.60,000 for working eight months from November 2014 to June 2015. Now, he is confident that experience of working extremely long hours without any leave at minimal wage and deftness in making bricks would help him raise advance to Rs.70,000. Despite being aware of torture and low payment in brick kilns and construction sector, thousands of villagers like Chandra have taken advances to fall into bondage. The labour market, which runs into several hundred crores of rupees in several western Odisha districts, is now red hot. Population of labourers migrating annually is likely to increase as deficit monsoon rain had led to drought in major pockets. 9/3/2016 He becomes a bonded labourer, this time by choice. 

As per the Odisha government statistics, 1,35,714 labourers were officially sent through 3,213 registered labour agents between 2011 and 2014. During the same period, 3,113 labourers were rescued. But as per unofficial estimates, the number of labourers migrating to brick kilns annually would touch around 3 lakh. Registers on labour migration maintained by voluntary organisations say that as many as 9,595 children, including school­going students from 301 villages in western districts of Bargarh, Nuapada and Bolangir, had accompanied their parents to other States during 2014­15. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik this week announced his government’s resolve to create 1.62 crore man­days by spending Rs.500 crore under the MGNREGA in face of the looming drought situation. “The announcement on MGNREGA will not be able to hold migrating labourers back. In the past, villagers were tired of seeking jobs under MGNREGA, but the administrative inertia left them in the lurch,” said Daya Sagar Pradhan, an activist who has lived in brick kilns in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu for 10 years and seen the plight of migrant workers from close quarters. 

The Hindu: September 19th 2015 By Satya Sunder Barik

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