The Bengaluru Urban District Administration (Kodigehalli) Police and Labour Department officials rescued five bonded labourers from a borewell digging unit’s office in Sahakara Nagar Bengaluru on 10th August 2020. The five bonded labourers, all males, aged between 18 and 27 hail from Betul district in Madhya Pradesh. An FIR was registered against the owner of the borewell company under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976 at the Kodigehalli Police Station on 10th August 2020.
The labourers complained that they often had to sleep under the truck at night as there was not enough space for all of them along with the different things in the truck.
The case came to light when Jan Sahas, an NGO working on issues of bonded labour and trafficking in Madhya Pradesh, received information about the condition of the labourers from one of the labourers’ father in Madhya Pradesh on their Labour Helpline. They in turn alerted the District Magistrate, Betul District, Madhya Pradesh. The District Magistrate contacted the Bengaluru Urban District Deputy Commissioner for appropriate action who then directed the officials here to rescue these bonded labourers. International Justice Mission (IJM) supported the District Administration in the rescue.
Four of the labourers had been working at the borewell unit since November 2019 while one labourer has been working since June 2020. The first batch of four labourers, all friends, got to know about the work in Bengaluru when the owner’s visiting card was passed on to them in their village in Betul District. They called the owner to enquire about the job and he promised them Rs 10,000 as monthly salary. They then traveled to Bengaluru and were picked up at the railway station by the owner. The last labourer was told about the job here by a friend and he was also promised the same salary and arrived here in June 2020.
However, the labourers were not paid the promised wages and were only given Rs 200 to 1,000 each occasionally if any urgent need arose. They were also not provided with accommodation and were forced to live in a truck in bad conditions. They were given rations- rice, dal and vegetables by the owner periodically and a stove for cooking. They would travel to different sites for work in the same truck along with the borewell digging machine vehicle. A supervisor was also travelling with them. The labourers complained that they often had to sleep under the truck at night as there was not enough space for all of them along with the different things in the truck.
The labourers were working on the machine to dig borewells for houses and also agricultural fields in and around Bengaluru. They also had to clean the site at the end of the day. Additionally, they had to cook their own meals outside the truck. They said that they could only have two meals a day due to the scarcity of rations and time to cook. The labourers were working from 6:00 am till whenever the days borewell was completed which was often late at night.
When the labourers asked the owner for their wages he would tell them that he will put it into their back accounts soon, however this never happened. The labourers also stated that every month they were telling the owner that they want to return home, especially after the pandemic began. However the owner said they can leave only when he gets replacement labourers. In this way the owner held the labourers as bonded labourers, exploited them and did not even pay them the prescribed minimum wages.
“Even if I am close to death I will not come back here,” says one of the labourers aged 23 who has two children aged three and four. “I will work in my fields or find some work in my village itself. My family has three acres of land where we grow corn, soybean and rice. I came here because I was in need of some money to buy a motor for my own borewell in my land and to save some money for my children’s education but we were cheated here. I hope I get the wages for the months that I worked here,” he adds.
The District Administration will be issuing release certificates to the labourers on 11th August 2020 and then repatriating them to their home district. All five labourers belong to the Gond Schedule Tribe which is one of the largest Adivasi groups in India. Gond tribals are vulnerable to trafficking and bonded labour. In February 2019 also the Bengaluru Urban District Administration and Police, assisted by Jan Sahas, had rescued eight bonded labourers from a borewell company in Amruthahalli Police Station limits. Those labourers also hailed from Betul District of Madhya Pradesh.
On July 17th, 2020 seven bonded labourers, also Gond Schedule Tribe members from Chhattisgarh, were rescued from a borewell digging unit at Yeragatti, Belagavi District by the District Administration and local Police.