Andhra Pradesh

16 bonded labourers freed after two decades

Sixteen bonded labourers, including four children, who were forced to cut wood 18 hours a day were released from bondage here in Nellore district recently.

On receiving information, Collector M. Janaki immediately ordered an inspection of the labourers’ remote worksite in Mamuduru Village, Chejerla mandal limits. The action was based on a report from several NGOs that two men were illegally exploiting bonded labourers to sell wood for construction and firewood.

The 16 persons received release certificates from the officials entitling them to Rs. 1,000 as rehabilitation support. Another three children, including an infant, were rescued along with their families.

The mandal level officials visited the worksite along with the representatives of the NGOs which included the International Justice Mission (IJM) and the Association for Rural Development (ARD). They reportedly found that the children and men were collecting plant branches barefoot in a remote forest. It was surrounded by a casuarina plantation and agricultural field without electricity.

The owners, who forced them into bonded labour belonged to an upper caste in the region. Most of the victims belonged to the Yanadi tribe (ST) and they were toiling hard from 6 a.m. to midnight.

“I talked to a man in his twenties who said his family came there when he was only a small boy,” said IJM team leader Abishek Joseph. “I cannot imagine what it is like to grow up like that, but at least now his kids won’t have to.”

It is found that the labourers were forced to make bundles of hundreds of kilos of wood each day and received only Rs. 500 for Rs. 1,000 a family every two weeks, which is far below the minimum wage.

Enquiries by the NGOs revealed that some of the labourers had received a small advance of Rs. 13,000 in 1994 from a man who later sold them to the most recent owners.

These owners did not allow the labourers to leave the work premises or work for other employers.

Even if the men could leave to buy food or visit their native villages, they had to leave family members behind as collateral.

Going by the victims’ reports, nearly all the children, some as young as eight, were forced to collect and carry sticks, and they were born in bondage and have never attended school.

One child suffered from seizures, and the family sank deeper into debt to visit the hospital.

They were forced to make bundles of hundreds of kgs of wood each day

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Printable version | Sep 27, 2022 4:07:11 pm |