NEW DELHI: For over two and a half months, Rani*, 14, worked from 6 am till almost midnight in Solapur in Maharashtra with barely any break. The minor was among 53 other bonded labourers who were rescued from Maharashtra on Saturday after being duped into moving there from Madhya Pradesh’s Barwani district. A joint team of NGO Jan Sahas, Madhya Pradesh police and Maharashtra police rescued them. The survivors comprise 21 children, 14 women and 18 men belong to Barela scheduled tribe.
“My day started at 6 am and would end till after 11 pm. I would cut sugarcane all day and load them on the trucks till late evening. We would not get food on most days. They gave me no money. My parents stayed back in the village... My brother and I went to Solapur, along with others,” said Rani.
Back in her village now, she is staying with her parents who are wage labourers. Rice and jowar that she had carried from their village were what she fell back on most days. The girl and her elder brother were paid an advance amount of Rs10,000 before they migrated.
“Debt bondage is a common pattern of exploitation, especially when it comes to making Dalits and tribals work as bonded labourers... In the recent case, cases of bonded labour have been registered against the person who employed them...” said Ashif Shaikh, director, Jan Sahas. Rani’s narrative finds echo through the experiences of the others who were rescued. While cutting sugarcane would typically end at 5 pm for Beldar, who is in his 40s, carting them would only end till midnight. When Beldar raised his voice against the exploitation, he was beaten up.
“When I said they should let us go home, they beat us up. There was no escape from that condition. No matter how many hours we would work, they would say we are not working enough,” he said. Sunil, 23, had a similar fate when he tried asking his due wages for the work. Women are also at a higher risk of facing sexual violence, said Shaikh. However, it takes a while before they come out about the exploitation they have faced.
*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the minor.