New Delhi, Oct 31: Twenty-five-year-old Selvi Parthiban, rescued from bonded labour at a brick kiln, said she had been bonded for two years, and that her husband and seven-year-old son too were working at the same kiln.
Selvi was rescued recently from Chengalpet district in Tamil Nadu.
“My husband’s father took a loan of Rs.1,000 from a brick kiln owner when a medical emergency arose in the family. Over the years, with interest, that amount has swollen to Rs.one lakh,” Selvi says.
“When my husband asked how the interest amount had risen so much, he was beaten. We met a social activist, and escaped from the village. My husband and I now work as construction labourers,” Selvi said.
In a similar case from Punjab, Gurmail Singh, hailing from Patiala district, took a loan of Rs.5,000, and was then forced to work as a labourer in a field for as little as Rs.120 a month.
“I used to work almost 20 hours each day in the field,” he says.
And there was no respite from work, even when Gurmail was ill.
“My owner refused to grant me leave when I was sick. I fainted while working, and my sister took me to hospital,” he says, adding that it was in the hospital that he got to know that there was a law to protect people like him from exploitation.
“I approached the district magistrate with a complaint. I’m now plying a rickshaw, and I earn Rs.300 to Rs.400 a day,” he says.
Activists claim that bonded labour continues in the country, as implementation of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 remains poor.
“The practice of bonded labour is still rampant, though the law prohibits it, because law is not implemented strongly,” Saju Mathew, director of operations, South Asia, International Justice Mission (IJM) said.
A campaign has been launched by a group on national and international NGOs demanding strong implementation of the Act.
“It will be a year-long campaign, and we will meet various stakeholders to come out with a recommendation to strengthen the law,” he said.
Referring to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Mathew said there are about 11.7 million bonded labourers in India, most of them working in brick kilns, stone quarries, crushing mines or in rural and urban unorganised and informal sectors.
“Active vigilance is needed in every district. We need random inspection of industries, and appointment of special officers for monitoring bonded labourers in every district. We need improvement of welfare schemes for former bonded labourers. These are some of the recommendations,” Mathew said.
NGOs ActionAid, Jeevika and Justice Venture International will jointly conduct awareness and advocacy campaigns at state and district levels for over a year and the recommendations would be given to the parliamentarians in a year’s time, Manoj Varghese, an NGO worker participating in the campaign, said.