The effort to liberate and rehabilitate bonded labour, mainly from quarries and brick kilns, continues in Rajasthan

Away from public glare and without any big funding, small organisations in small towns can succeed in giving new hope to the most marginalised people. Bandhua Mukti Morcha (BMM) is one such, which works for the release and rehabilitation of bonded workers.

Records maintained by BMM Rajasthan reveal that it has taken the lead in the release and rehabilitation of 5000 bonded workers in various parts of Rajasthan during the last 18 years. Of course this was done with the involvement of the local administration as per the norms laid down in the bonded labour release law (including a provision of Rs. 20,000 as immediate relief and other benefits).

The bonded workers, mostly migrants, were rescued mainly from quarries, stone crushers and brick kilns. The rehabilitation included selection of housing sites, called Muktigrams, and finding them livelihood opportunities.

Rajesh Yagik, based in Alwar and actively involved in the project, was in his student days involved in struggles for the entry of dalits in temples. At a time when the neighbouring state of Haryana was disturbed by dictates of khap panchayats, Rajesh and his colleagues had publicly honoured couples who had married beyond the boundaries of caste and religion.

Recalling the release of bonded labour, Yagik says, “We soon learnt that released workers prefer familiar livelihoods in better conditions, instead of entirely new livelihoods. Women have shown a preference for animal husbandry, particularly goats and sheep.”

Virendra Choudhry, who heads the Alwar branch of BMM says, “We also try to hear the problems of the other side. Brick kiln owners may have genuine problems leading to non-payment of dues. But, of course, our first priority is to protect the interests of badly exploited workers.”

How are bonded workers identified? Yagik says three criteria are particularly useful — restrictions placed on movements or mobility of workers, payment of wages much below the legal and local norm, and insulting behaviour particularly towards women.

BMM-Rajasthan has also been involved in the release of about 15000 child workers (including child workers released along with adult bonded workers). Many of the child workers were employed in dhabas, domestic work, or small factories.

Special three-year schools were started for many of these rescued child-workers by the Morcha. Later they were helped to enter regular schools.