KANAKAPURA ROAD: It was worse than jail for Sunil (name changed), a 21-year-old labourer from Assam who was rescued on Thursday from bondage.
When he arrived in the city, the owner of the agarbatti factory to which he was lured took away his phone and wallet.
“He kept assuring us month after month that he would pay our wages before we left for our native place. When I told him I wanted to leave, he had me beaten up,” Sunil told City Express.
He had not stepped out of the factory or spoken to his family since the day he came here. “I was desperately waiting to escape,” he said.
Labourers from West Bengal (43), Assam (40), Jharkhand (22), and Nepal (2), had been locked up by the owners of the factory on Kanakpura Road.
After their rescue, they had the same story to tell. False promises had brought 107 of them to work here. They were forced to sleep in one large room and share a single toilet.
The International Justice Mission (IJM), a NGO, assisted the Bengaluru Rural district administration to rescue the bonded labourers.
The duration of their unpaid forced labour, making agarbattis, ranged from two months to three years.
The labourers were deceived into coming to Bengaluru. They were promised a trial of one month after which they could decide if they wanted to stay. They were also promised wages of `7,000-9,000 a month, in addition to meals, accommodation and a weekly off.
Esther Daniel, Director of System Reform, IJM, added, “Not one of them had ever stepped out of the factory or been paid any wages. The District Administration and the Kaggalipura police have done a wonderful job by rescuing and freeing them from bondage.”
The victims, mostly frail and ailing farmers, said they had been physically abused by the owner and the supervisors. They had worked in inhuman conditions, handling dangerous chemicals without any protective gear.
One labourer from Jharkhand said, “We were not allowed out even when we were ill and in need of medicine.”
When his mother was ailing back home, he could neither send any money for her treatment nor visit her.
“My family was desperate to know about my whereabouts as I was unable to get in touch with them for months,” he said.
The victims even cut one another’s hair since they could not leave the factory. Security guards watched over them day and night, and two guard dogs were let loose at night to ensure they didn’t escape.
The victims have received release certificates from the state government and will now be sent back to their respective states.
The law says each bonded labourer gets a compensation of `50,000 from the Centre and the state. But this may take its own time.