June 28, 2012

Bonded Labourers rescued from Brick kiln Bakher - Sunderbani - Rajouri (J&K)

Anumeha Yadav is an independent journalist who has been working on labour issues all over the country. Workers in Jammu and Kashmir got her number from a small NGO in Chattisgarh and kept calling her and asking her to visit. When she went there recently, she found four families working as bonded labour in a brick kiln near Sunderbani, Rajouri. When she took this information to the district collector he was helpful and initiated action. Copied below is their correspondence, with more information and suggestions from people working on this issue.

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Anumeha Yadav



Below are the details of the incident I discussed, and the photos the Collector shared of the workers with their release certificates. These families have been working in bonded debt in kilns in Jammu-Sundarbani and Srinagar for the last 15 to 20 years. They worked in kilns in Jammu for 7-8 months and then would be bought by kiln owners in Srinagar for the rest of the year when work closes in Jammu kilns. They are from villages in Chattisgarh and UP. The Collector was very prompt in both acknowledging their condition and issuing certificates that will make them eligible for rehabilitation when I shared video clippings of interviews with these families last week, though the rehabilitation amount/package itself of course is abysmal.

I inquired about MNREGA  wages and functionality in the villages in Janjgir Champa in Chattisgarh where most of these workers are from. In most places work had gone on only 15-20 days, deepening ponds etc., and then closed. People were not getting their wages till 3-4  months later. Janjgir is the district with one of the highest levels of irrigation, 78 percent, in Chattisgarh but most farmers say they dont have access to irrigation. The district is supposed to get over 35 power plants in the next few months so that the state can start selling power.

Freed bonded labour going home

Freed bonded labour going home

Freed bonded labour with certificates making them eligible for rehabilitation

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Saugat Biswas, IAS
District Magistrate,
District Rajouri,
J&K, India

Following the tip off from Anumeha Yadav regarding the working of 26 labourers belonging to 4 families as bonded labour, the district administration got all the labourers released. The families headed by Bahadur Singh (three member); Mehboob Khan (9 members), Naveen Kumar (7 members) and Ganesh Ram (7 members) were working for OMC Brick kiln in Bakher near Sunderbani in Sub Division Nowshera, Distt Rajouri; who were being forced to stay back at the kiln in lieu of debt. We pushed a team led by the Sub Divisional Magistrate Rajinder Khajuria and Additional SP, Nowshera, into action. Team of executive magistrates headed by tehsildar, Nowshera recorded their statements along with their names and other relevant information, which were verified. Soon after police team headed by SDPO Nowshera was deputed along with SHO Dharamsal to provide night security to the labourers to avoid any physical harm/exploitation till they get rescued and deported to their native places.

Each family was issued a Bonded Labour Rescue Certificate from the administration facilitating them to get rehabilitated in their state. Railway tickets were arranged and all the 26 members were rescued and deported by road upto Jammu Tawi Railway Station, followed by train upto their respective native places in Chattisgarh. One official from revenue department and one police constable accompanied the rescued labourers upto Jammu Tawi Railway Station and further the Railway Protection Force was requested to provide security to the group of laboureres till the  respective trains left the station.

You may now take any further action as deemed fit for their rehabilitation.


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Nikhil Dey 
MKSS

This is quite amazing work for a journalist wandering around doing stories on bonded labour. The District Collector also seems to have responded immediately and done all that he could. The challenge ofcourse will be rehabilitation and security in Chattisgarh. 

Brick Kilns all over the country seem to be a big centre for bonded labour...I was just in Kashmir two days ago and saw brick kilns where [I was told] all the labour was bonded and from Bihar and UP and other eastern states.

We all need to put our heads together to see how NREGA can become an instant and effective source of rehabilitation. I feel that anoyone who gets a certificate (like these labourers from Charrisgarh have) should immediately be entitled to two to three hundred days of work per year.

As you have quite rightly pointed out, the NREGA seems to have miserably failed to give them any work in their village. On the other hand Baran is an outstanding example of how NREGA has given workers some thing substantial to fight their situation of bondage...

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Harsh Mander
Aman Biradri

..Your work will help keep this massive most dispossessed group in rural India visible in the public conscience. It was great that the Collector did not deny but actually did his duty. But as I was working on this issue, I realize that both the law and the rehab package need an urgent revamp. And the linkage to an expanded NREGA entitlement which actually works reliably year after year, with maybe an advance payment of wages, is their best long term defence. More strength to your efforts, Anumeha.

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Anumeha can be contacted aanumeha [dot] yadav [at] gmail [dot] com

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