HYDERABAD: The alleged gang-rape of a brick-kiln worker from Odisha by four youngsters at Maheswaram in Ranga Reddy district just three weeks ago may seem like an isolated incident. However, when Express visited some of the brick kilns and construction sites located in the city and its outskirts, it was learnt that there have been multiple incidents of women labourers — especially those from other states — being subjected to physical and sexual harassment.
Instances of men — fellow migrant labourers, employers or locals — making physical advances, stalking and passing lewd comments often go unreported. Women migrant workers are not only silenced but are also deprived of basic sanitation facilities, making them more susceptible to physical and sexual exploitation.
The Odisha woman was gang-raped when she had stepped out of her hut to relieve herself. In a similar case, the owner of a brick kiln had raped three minors in Choppadandi of Karimnagar in 2014. The case ended in the conviction of the accused, who was awarded life sentence for his crimes.
What is more shocking is that despite these incidents, none of the owners of the brick kilns across Ranga Reddy and other parts of the State have set up any facilities for their workers, especially women, forcing them to continue working under vulnerable conditions.
A migrant woman, who works at a brick kiln along with her husband, said that apart from their wages and travel expenses, their employers did not pay them a rupee more. The makeshift huts provided on the site also do not have enough space or ventilation. It is only meant for sleep, she said. “Drinking water and sanitation facilities are no more than a pipedream. We usually fetch water from the neighbouring fields. We go into the bushes to relieve ourselves and to bathe,” she said.
A male migrant worker said that though women were being harassed frequently in their worksites, they were prevented from speaking about it. “If they speak about it, they will be removed from work. Moreover, we don’t have any support from the localities. Even if we go to the police, it will be difficult for us to go through with the legal proceedings. We leave the worksites after the season. Returning would cost us too much,” he said.
Migrant workers are generally of the opinion that apart from their wages, they don’t receive any other benefits from their employers. “If something horrific like gang rape happens to a local worker, all the workers from the brick kilns would gather and protest demanding action. We cannot do something drastic like that because we might lose our wages,” said another worker.