On 6th November, a 26-year-old Adivasi man was burnt alive by his employer over taking a loan. He was taken to a district hospital but died during treatment. The man was said to be working as a bonded labourer.
The victim, Vijay Sahariya, was working on a field owned by Radheshyam, the accused, in Bamori area of Madhya Pradesh. He is the oldest of three brothers and is married with two children. Vijay comes from the Sahariya tribe, who are identified as Particularly Vulnerable Tribes.
According to his family, Radhyeshyam was angry because, despite taking a loan, Sahariya worked in another person field. The police states that Radhyeshyam called Sahariya to a temple on the night of the horrific incident in the pretext of watering his field, but poured kersone on him and set him on fire.
Sahariya was taken to a Government hospital in Bamori immediately but later shifted to one in Guna owing to lack of facilities. He died the next day during treatment.
Bonded Labourers in Madhya Pradesh
Madhya Pradesh Congress Narendra Saluja said, “The truth is the deceased was a bonded labourer for three years with the accused over a Rs 5,000 loan. He was burnt to death for not repaying that money.”
“Debt slavery” and such instances of violence against bonded labourers is unfortunately extremely common.
Congress demanded that strict action must be taken against the culprits, that the Government should provide them with financial assistance and that they must take efforts to curb bonded labour and such instances of violence.
Guna Collector Pushottam, however, denied that Vijay was a bonded labourer. But, the police have booked him under IPC Section 307 for an attempt to murder along with other charges. As per the provisions of the SC/ST Atrocities Act, the government will bear the expense of educating Vijay’s children as per provisions of the SC/ST Atrocities Act and they have provided the family Rs. 8.5 lakh.
Narendra Bhadoria, a member of the bonded labourer rights group Bandhua Mukti Morcha, bonded labour is extremely common in Guna. In 2004, 12,822 bonded labourers were identified and released and 11,897 rehabilitated in Madhya Pradesh alone.
The Study Group on Bonded Labour for the National Commission on Rural Labour reported a high incidence of bonded labour in stone quarries and crushers, sandstone, marble and slate mines in a number of states. In Madhya Pradesh, slate mines and stone quarries have a high incidence of bonded workers. Prof. Sheotaj Singh of the Bandhua Mukti Morcha highlighted the existence of of 400 bonded workers in quarries. The district administratiion initially denied this, but 44 labourers were released on intervention of the NHRC and the employer was prosecuted under the BLSA Act and SC/ST Atrocities Act.
Adivasis Bonded Labourer
Adivasis in particular have a long history of being forced into exploitative debt relationships which results in debt slavery. The reason for this is the systematic erosion of their traditional livelihood systems by the State and corporates, dispossession from land, loss of rights to forest produce, illegal quarrying, and control of mafias over mining. The NHRC identified Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh as having high rates of bonded labour.
Members of the Sahariya tribe, from which the victim Vijay Sahariya hailed, are also especially vulnerable to bonded labour in many states, including Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. In exchange for small sums ranging from Rs 2000-Rs 6000 a month, parents in destitution have been forced to hand over their children to men who transport them to different states.
One such child is Sanju Sahariya, who is paid about Rs. 3500 a month and works from 4 are to 5 pm. “Here, I will die of hunger. In the jungle, we get food and occasionally, milk and curd also. I am itching to go back,” he said. After his father, Ram Lal’s crops were destroyed, he incurred a loss of Rs. 10,000 and needed another Rs. 7,000 to repay a loan. He said:
“Had I not sent off my son to work, my family of eight would have died of hunger. If the government thinks this is wrong, it should tell us how to survive,”
Lack of development schemes is not the issue as in 2016-17, Rs 25 crore were allotted for the development of the Adivasi community under Janjati Kalyan Nidhi. However, local officials often collude with contractors and sign off that these projects are completed even if it isn’t true. Activist Manoj Mehta says that the officials often siphon funds, but deny claims of corruption.
“Everyone says the Sahariyas are thieves if the forest officials spot us gathering produce in the forests, but it is the government that is the biggest thief.”
activist Mamtabai Sahariya
Kanhaiya, who used to work as a bonded labourer for over ten years under a upper caste landlord, said that instead of these “development” schemes, the Government should deliver on its promise of redistributing land to Sahariyas and assuring access to land and forest resources.
Read More: Turning back the clock: How the state is reversing gains made by traditional forest dwelling communities
Related: Bangalore: Shocking Tale of Human Trafficking, Sexual assault and bonded labour of Migrant Adivasi woman