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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 51, Dated December 25, 2010
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TEHELKA IMPACT

The story of slavery that Jaipur can no longer deny

The bonded labourers of Baran finally have hopes of freedom after TEHELKA highlighted their plight, says ANUMEHA YADAV

TEHELKA
IMPACT
Inhuman bondage Om Prakash and his wife Geeta were among the first to make a bid for freedom

Inhuman bondage Om Prakash and his wife Geeta were among the first to make a bid for freedom

PHOTO: DIJESHWAR SINGH

LESS THAN 300 km from Rajasthan’s capital Jaipur, in Baran district bordering Madhya Pradesh, hundreds of poor Sahariya tribals are bonded to rich landlords. These tribals have lost their traditional access to gum, tendu leaf and timber in the forest and possess little or no land. When Mamta, a local community worker, took 16 such families to Jaipur to participate in a dharna for minimum wages, officials distanced themselves, saying these families were tribals from MP. “How did they reach Jaipur if they were bonded?” was the line taken by the district administration.

TEHELKA travelled to Baran and reported from the ground (TEHELKA, 18 December, A Stone for Bhanwar Lal. Occupation: Slave) how rich landowners from Punjab and Haryana have tricked hundreds of Sahariyas into loans with interest rates of 36 to 70 percent, and are making them work on their farms without wages. These people have been working like slaves for generations to pay off the debt. The Baran district administration had denied the 30 families interviewed by TEHELKA across six villages were in bondage. District Collector Naveen Jain called them hali — a term for an agricultural labourer working in return for a cash advance — even when the Bonded Labour (Abolition) Act 1976 bans hali among 31 forms of bonded debt.

Six families have come out in the open asking to be freed from the debt they are in

After the publication of the TEHELKA report, the administration has changed its stance and acknowledged that Sahariyas are working as bonded labour. “I have asked for Rs. 2 lakh from the state government to do a survey of the district to identify families in bonded debt. We are addressing village meetings to encourage families to report if they are in bonded debt so we can release and rehabilitate them,” says Jain. After one such meeting in Khankara village, six Sahariya families came out in the open and asked to be freed from the debt they have been slaving to pay off. Jain says officers in Shahbad and Kishanganj blocks are investigating the conditions in which these Sahariyas were made to work without wages, before the administration registers FIRs against their landlords.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has also taken a cue from TEHELKA’s report and has called a meeting of all district collectors in Jaipur on 23 December. “We plan to use TEHELKA’s findings to confront the Rajasthan government. It is a peculiar government mindset to think that admitting labourers are in bondage will be a slur on their image. We must accept that we have not been able to abolish bonded labour and poor families are vulnerable to fall into this trap,” said Laxmidhar Mishra, NHRC Special Rapporteur, emphasising the need for regular surveys and formation of district-level vigilance committees as prescribed by the Bonded Labour (Abolition) Act, 1976.


anumeha@tehelka.com

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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 51, Dated Dec 25, 2010
 

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