A team of officials, led by Assistant Commissioner Prabhuling Kavalikatti, raided a black stone quarry in Vitla in Bantwal taluk and rescued 39 bonded labourers, including some children, on Wednesday. While some of them are from Krishnagiri district in Tamil Nadu, others belong to Kanakapura near Bangalore.
They were given meagre wages and were not allowed to leave the quarry for six years, according to Mr. Kavalikatti. He described it as a case of violation of the Bonded Labour (Abolition) Act, 1976.
“They were being made to work against their will. They were not allowed to move out of the area and were paid meagre wages,” Mr. Kavalikatti said, and added, “Prima facie it appears the 39 were bonded labourers.” After completion of the inquiry, information will be sent to the Deputy Commissioners of the areas to which they belong for their rehabilitation.
Mr. Kavalikatti said the raid was carried out on information provided by International Justice Mission, a non-governmental organisation.
“The NGO will take care of the rescued labourers till the inquiry is completed. If there is a violation of the Bonded Labour (Abolition) Act, a case will be booked against the quarry owner Abdul Hazi,” Mr. Kavalikatti said.
Rani, one of the labourers, said she was one among the 10 members of a family working at the quarry. “We were brought to the quarry six years ago by a person who assured us good wages. We are paid Rs. 150 a week per family. We asked for more but the owner refused,” she said.
The rescued labourers said they were often assaulted if they failed to report to duty even for a day. “If we missed a day, we would not get the daily quantity of rice and horse gram. There have been several days when our children have slept without food. They work with us in the quarry and are not sent to school,” she said.
The rescued labourers include 17 children who appeared to be malnourished. “We do not have money to take care of our children. Our children were given (polio) drops only once. Once a month, children aged less than 2 get a sumptuous meal from the nearby anganwadi,” said Suma, another woman who was rescued.