6 rescued from bonded labour in Orissa

CHENNAI, FEB. 26. Six persons, including five of a family, were rescued from bonded labour in a snacks-making unit in Orissa's Ganjam district.

Jayalakshmi and her four children — Vinod Kumar (12), Aruna Devi (7), Gangeswari (5) and 10-month-old Ponnulakshmi of Melakuilkudi, Madurai — and Marimuthu (12) of Bodinayakanur were rescued by activists belonging to the SOCO Trust of Madurai with the assistance of Ganjam district officials.

In Chennai, where they were brought today by the activists, accompanied by Orissa policemen, Ms. Jayalakshmi said their harrowing experience began the moment they reached the unit in Gosain Waga near Chatrapur, headquarters of Ganjam district.

"We were made to work from 4.30 a.m. to 8 p.m. with very little time to eat the two meals," she said. The unit in which they were working is owned by Palani of Usilampatti Taluk in Madurai. Ms. Jayalakshmi said they worked under extreme conditions.

"The rooms were very hot and we had to deep-fry snack the whole day." The family's work involved preparing rice murukku and sweets.

Ms. Jayalakshmi said Koochiammal of their village promised a job for the family. As the earnings of her husband, Mr. Ravikumar, was not sufficient the couple accepted Rs. 3,000 as advance and the family headed for Ganjam.

Unable to bear the torture, Mr. Ravikumar escaped from Ganjam and complained to the Trust and Madurai district officials in January. The process of rescuing the labourers began only after he lodged a complaint.

"Harassment increased after my husband escaped," Ms. Jayalakshmi said. Her son's hands were injured when he was rolling dough over a hot pan.

The activists — Alagumani and Francis Xavier — were given a letter from P.W.C. Davidar, Member-Secretary, Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu, who is coordinating with non-government organisations involved in rescuing bonded labourers. The activists contacted Ganjam district authorities who helped them to rescue the family.

The activists also got information about Marimuthu employed in a similar unit in the area and were also able to rescue him. The boy, a sixth standard student, had left his home in Bodinayakanur in April last after a school teacher beat him up. Noticing Marimuthu loitering in the town, a broker approached him. Identifying the broker as Murugavel, the boy said he was handed over to a conduit and later brought to the snack unit.

The activists said snack including rice murukku and honey toffees were very popular in the north, particularly in Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. Many farmers belonging to southern districts of Tami Nadu who were affected due to crop failure, migrated to these States and set up snacks-making units.

With the help of brokers, they managed to rope in people from poverty-stricken areas and employed them as bonded labourers, the activists said.

Mr. Davidar said the Government assisted the activists and coordinated with the Ganjam district authorities to rescue the six bonded labourers. The Government also made arrangements to bring the bonded labourers to Chennai and send them to Madurai.