32 rescued workers of Odisha’s Balagir pressurised to return to Andhra kiln

They were exploited as bonded labourers in inhuman conditions till a month ago

Bonded labourers from Odisha’s Balangir district, who were rescued from a brick kiln in Andhra Pradesh, are being compelled by an unscrupulous middleman to return to the same work.

Thirty-two bonded labourers, including minors, were rescued from a brick kiln at Kanumpalle in the Garladinne mandal of the Anantpur district of Andhra Pradesh in November this year. But just after a month of their return to their homes in Odisha, many of them are again being pressurised to return to the same brick kiln, where they were exploited as cheap labour in inhuman conditions.

Owners on bail

A dubious middleman named Puran Bag of the Kurlumunda village in the Balangir district had organised their employment in the brick kiln. Achyut Bhoe of the Bahabal village in the Belapada block, who was among the rescued labourers, alleged that the middleman was asking them to return to the brick kiln as its arrested owners had been released on bail.

Mr. Bhoe’s son-in-law, Jugneswar Kunwar, who was also rescued, said the workers did not wish to return to it. Similar allegations of pressure tactics by the middleman were made by Uddhaba Mallick, and Govardhan Suna, both rescued from the same kiln. Mr. Suna’s wife and two children were also rescued along with him.

NHRC compensation

Human rights activist Sushant Panigrahi, who played a key role in the rescue, said the National Human Rights Commission has recommended compensation of ₹1 lakh for the rehabilitation of each rescued bonded labourer. “The dubious labour contractor, who has taken away their [the rescued bonded labourers’] identity documents, is threatening them that they will not get the compensation,” Mr. Panigrahi said.

Balangir’s District Collector Arindam Dakua has promised to initiate action and prevent their return to the brick kiln in A.P. “We are also taking up measures for the proper rehabilitation of these persons to enable them to earn their living near their home,” he added. He also promised strict action against the middleman.

Legal action

Secretary of the Odisha unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Ali Kishor Patnaik has also taken up the issue with the Balangir district administration and demanded legal action against the contractor. “Efforts to resend the bonded labourers to their old workplace is a tacit effort to save the skin of the brick kiln owner. Through the middleman, the brick kiln owner facing legal action is trying to prove that he was an employer rather than exploiter,” said Mr. Patnaik.

The party demanded the Odisha government come up with a system to rehabilitate rescued bonded labourers, and the identification of middlemen involved in their exploitation.

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 10:26:21 AM |

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