Nine escape from forced labour

BANGALORE, JULY 12. Nine workers, who had managed to escape from forced labour at a mill near Mysore, found themselves at the Bangalore Cantonment Railway Station waiting for a train to Satna in Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday.

They had escaped from Atlanta Weaving and Spinning Mills, formerly known as K.R. Mills, about 6 km from Mysore on the Mysore- Bangalore highway. ``We had to climb the compound wall after throwing our minimal luggage over,'' said Sanjay Kumar (18) one of those who escaped.

They are natives of Baliya, district in Uttar Pradesh.After escaping from the mill, they managed to reach the suburban bus station to take a bus to Bangalore. They said they were prevented from leaving the bus station by one of the supervisors from the mill.

Mr. Sony George, a human rights activist who coordinates with the South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring (SICHREM), told this reporter that he prevailed upon the supervisor to allow the workers to leave.

He brought them to Bangalore in a private vehicle plying between Mysore and Bangalore.

It was, however, not clear how they managed to come to the Cantonment station. When asked, Mr. George said that they stayed overnight at the City railway station and then found transport to the Cantonment station.

Sanjay and eight of his friends were reportedly brought to Mysore by a contractor with a promise of good pay.

Instead, they were forced to work for minimal wages and prevented from leaving the premises of the mill. ``We were given between Rs. 20 and Rs. 40 a day,'' they said.

These workers told this reporter that there were about 1,000 workers in the mill and about 350 of them were from Bihar, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh.

The only evidence to show that these people were employed at the mill was a card that bore the name of the mill and also served as an attendance card. All the markings on the card were in English which none of the workers understand.

Several days on the card of one worker were marked ``off'' or absent, which would be used to cut pay.

The situation of these labourers was brought to the notice of the press by Mr. Mathews Philip from SICHREM, which is a project of the MANASA Centre for Development and Social Action, an NGO.

Most of the workers did not have the money to buy their tickets to Satna.

When contacted, railway officials said that the rules did not allow any concession to be made and the tickets had to be bought. A ticket to Satna costs Rs. 262. SICHREM later arranged for the tickets.

According to the Interstate Migrant Worker's Act, either the owner of the mill or the contractor who brought the workers here had to provide them with travel fare, said Mr. S. Manjunath Shastry, Joint Labour Commissioner who was informed of the situation and came to the Cantonment railway station to meet the workers.

The workers named two supervisors who tried to prevent them from leaving the premises of the mill. One of the workers said that he and his friends were afraid that the other workers staying on in the mill might be victimised because they had escaped.

The workers who escaped from a mill near Mysore giving a statement to a Labour Department official in Bangalore on Wednesday.