Bonded labourers from Dalit and Tribal communities freed in Karnataka
Bonded Labor rescued families at Social Welfare Hostel
It is hard to imagine but shockingly true. Around 52 people were enslaved as bonded labourers in a village in Hassan district which is the home district of Karnataka CM HD Kumaraswamy and former PM HD Deve Gowda. The labourers were from Dalit and tribal communities. The village in Hassan is about 190 Kms from Bengaluru. The group of 52 bonded labourers, included four children and 17 women were forced into bonded labour and were housed in an inhuman manner in a shed at a farm in Savanakanahalli of Dudda Hobli which is about 20 km from the Hassan city centre.
The main accused Munesh had taken land on a lease which was fenced. Here, he would hire autowallahs who were his accomplices in bringing in people who were in search of daily jobs. These autowallahs would roam around the railway station looking around for migrant workers. When the gullible people were found, the auto drivers would offer them Rs 600 per day and ferry them to the farmhouse. While hiring them, they were told that women would be engaged in plucking tomatoes and other vegetables while the men would be engaged in hard labour like tilling the land or peeling coconuts.
The gullible labourers were picked up from nearby railway stations of Kadur, Ajjampur, Birur and Hassan. The bonded labourers hailed from different districts in Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. They hailed from different Dalit, Tribal and OBC communities.
Once they reached the shed which was to be their place of stay, they were herded in small tempos or made to walk to other farms to engage in agricultural and other menial activities. When the day was over, they used to be bought back to the shed in Savanakanahalli and all 52, both men and women, were forced to live in the same shed in utmost unhygienic conditions. While their captors took thousands of rupees from the owners of the farms for labour, these innocent people were not paid anything.
A life in hell
One of the labourers, a Dalit, spoke to the media after the rescue said, that he was a Dalit who had come in search of a job but was hoodwinked by the accused. “When we were apprehended by our captors, our clothes were stripped and were given torn shirts and short. Our phones, wallets were taken away. We were made false promises on work and money.” he says. After the harrowing experience, he said that whatever difficulties they had at their hometown, they will return and work there itself instead of falling for quacks and human trafficking mafia. He was in captivity for three years at the land. Every time he requested to be released, his request was postponed and was promised to be released during Deepavali or New Year which never happened, he says.
At the farmhouse, things would change drastically as the migrant workers were stripped of all their personal belongings and would be chained. They would be offered only food and made to work like beasts.
Another labourer, from a tribal community, who was from a village near Raichur, said that they were treated so badly and beaten regularly due to which many have suffered injuries and fractures. He says the government should help them in their rehabilitation has they do not have anything now to rebuild their lives. “We had taken loans from many people in our village to come here in search of work. Now we don’t have anything and if we go back empty-handed, how shall we repay our loans and rebuild our lives?”, he questioned.
As soon as the news spread, Udupi-Chikkamagaluru MP Shobha Karandlaje visited the spot and assured all possible help to the bonded labourers. She also said that Centre under Shri Narendra Modi was planning for new legislation to curb human trafficking.
While speaking to Shobha Karandlaje, the labourers narrated their travails for many years. “We were given food only if we worked and were denied proper food even if we suffered from fever. We had no breakfast but were only given poorly prepared sambar and rice,” he said. As they were chained when housed in a shed like animals, the labourers had to pass urine through a tube that was attached to one end of the shed. They were surrounded by guards at all times and were not allowed to speak to each other while working. Even water had to be consumed after taking the permission of one of the guards. When asked as to why didn’t they complain to anyone, the labourers told Shobha that their mobile phones were taken away and any contacts that were written on paper were destroyed.
The labourers were taken from one farm to another and made to work from morning to night without pay. Whenever any labourer raised his voice, he would be beaten black and blue so that he remained mute. Women were also sexually harassed several times by the captors during this period. Shockingly, the perpetrators had held two six-year-old boys and even a 62-year old as captives.
Freedom at last!
On 16th December, one of the labourers from Arasikere managed to escape and informed the family of one Krishnappa, who was also held as a bonded labourer in the same farm at Savanakanahalli. He explained the torture he faced and the conditions of others at the farm. It was then that Krishnappa’s family gathered courage and met the police and registered a complaint. The police swung into action and raided the farm and rescued the labourers. The police action team was led by Hassan SP Prakash Gowda which raided the farm in utmost secrecy on the night of 16th December.
A day later, SP Prakash Gowda addressed the media and narrated the sequence of incidents and confirmed the torture meted out to the labourers. The police team had arrested two people during the raid at the farm who spilt the beans, narrated their modus operandi and revealed the owners of the racket. The two others were arrested later, and all four were charged under 323, 324 (wrongful confinement), 344 (theft), 354 (sexual harassment) of the Indian Penal code (IPC), Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act (BLSA) and the SC, ST (Prevention of Atrocities Act).
The rescued labourers were provided temporary accommodation at a social welfare hostel. The state government was requested by the police to make necessary arrangements to relocate the rescued labourers to their hometowns as soon as possible.
Silence from ‘Dalit’ and Human Rights warriors
The usual bleeding hearts for the ‘Dalit’ cause and media darlings have been conspicuously silent on the entire issue of 52 Dalits & Tribals who were ill-treated and held captive for many years. Not one statement has been issued by the likes of Kanhaiya Kumar or Jignesh Mevani and their ‘tukde tukde’ gang who are quick to blame Modi and BJP should anything bad happen to a Dalit in a BJP ruled state.
‘Dalit ki Beti’ Mayavati who cries hoarse over any move of the central government has not even issued a press statement, let alone asking for an explanation from the Karnataka CM in whose own district the entire episode transpired. The Amnesty international whose only job these days seems to condemn any move of the central government has been silent over the issue and a press release too was not found on their website.
The ‘Buddhijeevis’ and self-proclaimed progressive thinkers in Karnataka who were part of the ‘Award Wapasi’ brigade have neither given one media byte against the Cong-JD(S) government nor have they written any column or articles over the issue in any newspaper. Girish Karnad did not come out to protest at the town hall and ‘Just Asking’ Prakash Raj has not asked one question to the state government and had his mouth shut for days now.
The self-serving Marxists and Communist Parties who protested against the Una lynchings, have not stepped out of their office doors. Likewise, the Dalita Sangharsha Samiti and similar organisations that claim to represent the Dalit cause, have been noticeably silent on the issue. While the streets of Bengaluru had to witness their anger against the ill-treatment of 52 Dalits for years, they are nowhere to be seen let alone ask the government of the day for an explanation.
The silence of the usual suspects, confirms the doubts expressed from various quarters that the anger from them is reserved for politicking and that they have no genuine concern for the Dalits or their progress. The entire episode of Savanakanahalli where the Dalits & tribals were forced to look out for jobs but ended up being bonded labourers, reiterates the fact that their lives can be ameliorated only by development and good governance and not by sloganeering or creating anarchy in their name.
(Guruprasad and Prashanth Vaidyaraj from Bengaluru)