For Chinna and a group of 31 Arunthathiyar families in Therpatti village in Tirupur, freedom is an unkown state. For years, as their complaint to NHRC claimed, they had been working in a brick kiln owned by a dominant caste member. As is the norm in most such kilns, the owners took away the ration cards of these families, and in some cases - according to the NGO that represented Chinna - even pattas were snatched. This, they argued, was a classic case of bonded labour.
In April 2010, when a small quarrel broke out between two Arunthathiyar families, Chinna and his family were summoned for an explanation by the owner. “Chinna and his family were accused of starting the issue and were levied a fine of Rs 1 lakh. The owners threatened that they would not get their ration cards and their pattas if they did not pay the fine,” said Murugan, who represented the family. However, when the family expressed its inability to pay the amount, they were allegedly made “to touch the feet of the owners several times” as insults quoting their caste were hurled at them.
Following this humiliation, Chinna and his family lodged a complaint in the local police station. An FIR was filed where it was alleged that provisions of the Bonded Labour Act were not be taken into consideration by the police. The complainant added that no arrests have been made to date and a light section of the PoA has been included, pointing to collusion.
The case attracted a fair bit of criticism from Commission member Justice B C Patel, who questioned the process of inquiry. “Issues of bonded labour have been raised. No proper inquiry has been made. Were the labourers paid proper wages or not? Was the owner maintaining proper records? These questions could not be answered by the officer,” he said. “The complaint has been treated by the Collector in a ‘mechanical way’.”
He ordered a probe and a report within four weeks, failing which coercive measures would be invoked by the NHRC on the Collector.