Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Breaking bonds of misery

After years of hardship, migrant labourers from Odisha get a new lease of life

Satya Sunder Barik, The Hindu 

Forty-year-old Buta Rana from Induguda village of Odisha’s Rayagada district was rescued as a bonded labourerfrom Tamil Nadu in 2011. However, he hasn’t migrated outside the State in search of work since.  

It wasn’t as if the rehabilitation assistance of Rs. 20,000 he received in 2012- 2013 under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, was enough to live on in his village for the rest of his life. Buta and 12 otherformer bonded labourers from five families in the village pooled their assistance money and bought four acres of land in 2012-2013. They have been able to meet their food needs from the land since the past three years, besides making some additional income.

Rehabilitation assistance At Muribahal block of Balangir district, 37-year-old Uttar Bagarti and his three family members have forgotten the agonising days at a brick kiln in Tamil Nadu. After their repatriation to Odisha in 2011, they used their rehabilitation assistance as seed investment. They now grow paddy, sunflowers and vegetables in the village and have no reason to migrate to other States anymore.

Buta and Uttar’s stories are not just gloomy tales of migrant labourers from Odisha ending up as bonded labourers. Having learnt a lesson from their torturous experiences, many bonded labourers have started earning livelihoods in their own villages. Every year, about three lakh migrant labourers, including minors, move from the interiors of Odisha to other States in search of work. Between 2010 and 2015, 1,208 labourers, including 500 women and 100 children, were legally freed as bonded labourers from brick kilns in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The State governments then repatriated them to Odisha.

Rukmana Deep, a migrant labourerfrom Badipali village at Bijepur block of Bargarh district, had migrated to Andhra Pradesh to work at a brick kiln in order to repay his hospital bills to the tune of Rs. 20,000. However, his family and he were forced to work in confinement before they were finally rescued by the police and activists in 2012. After he returned home, Rukmana decided to make a living in his native village. He used his financial assistance to invest in both agriculture and weaving. Today, his income from weaving alone has increased to nearly Rs. 20,000 per month. One of his two daughters, also a former bonded labourer, is pursuing higher education at a local college. Rukmana also leads the forum of bonded labourers at Bargarh “There’s nothing wrong in migrating in search for a job. The State government must play the role of a facilitatorto prevent its citizens from being tortured in other States,” said Rukmana.

Activist in action Successful rehabilitation of bonded labourers has been possible thanks to activists helping them access various government schemes including the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, Indira Awas Yojna, Biju Pucca GharYojana, and the Public Distribution System. “We have been focusing on land-based rehabilitation. Migrant labourers aren’t shy about working in the fields. What they lack is investment. We try to help them access government welfare programmes,” said Umi Daniel, the head Migration information and Resource Centre (MiRC), Aide et Action South Asia, a non-government organisation.

Courtesy: 5/30/2017 Breaking bonds of misery ­ NATIONAL ­ The Hindu­paper/tp­national/breaking­bonds­of­misery/article18596928.ece 5/9

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