From bonded labour, Chenchus come a long way

A total of 106 members of the Chenchu community in Amaragiri, who were rescued seven years ago by the State government from bonded labour, are now thriving in freedom.
From bonded labour, Chenchus come a long way

HYDERABAD: After spending her entire life working as a labourer for a family belonging to a local community, from whom 45-year-old Kundumula Ankamma’s parents had taken a loan, the Chenchu woman finally has become financially independent.

A resident of Amaragiri village in Nagarkurnool district catches fish and sells at a market. “The processing unit that the government is setting up in the village will add to the profit as we will be able to export the fish directly to big markets,” she said. Not just Ankamma, a total of 106 members of the Chenchu community in Amaragiri, who were rescued seven years ago by the State government from bonded labour, are now thriving in freedom.

Forty-seven years ago on February 9, 1976, the Bonded Labour System Abolition Act (BLSA), passed by both the Houses of Parliament, received the assent of the President. Marking the occasion, The Bondage Labour Abolition Day, being celebrated on February 9 every year.

Bondage of three generations

Amaragiri’s Chenchus who come under a particularly vulnerable tribal group (PVTG) were fulfilling most of these conditions. “When our grandparents were displaced from the Nallamala forest, they took up fishing as full-time profession,” Ankamma reveale. To buy fishing nets and boats Chenchus took loans from a local community and, to repay it, they were forced to sell fish to the debtors at Rs 20 per kg when the market price was somewhere between Rs 150-Rs 200 per kg. “After the nets were worn out, my parents had to take more loans to buy new ones,” Ankamma added.

The issue was reported to the district magistrate by Foundation of Sustainable Development which conducted tribal awareness programmes in the village. “A team of government officials visited and analysed the situation. Finally, on January 7, 2016,  a total of 106 rescue certificates were issued by the government, freeing the labourers from debts,” said Vasudev Rao of FSD. He added that under the Central scheme for rehabilitation of bonded labourers, the tribals received Rs 5,000, which was 25% of the total compensation granted to them. They did not get the remaining as there was no conviction against the perpetrator.

Flourishing in freedom

In the last seven years, the government initiatives and NGOs have helped the community become financially independent. Soon after the rescue operation, Rs 10.98 lakh was sanctioned by the government to help 61 people buy fishing nets. Round basket boats, called Puttis, were also given by the government to a few members.  In 2018, the government also distributed TVS mopeds with crate boxes for 26 people to carry fish to the local markets.

The villagers who did not have a single document before they gained freedom from bonded labour now carry Aadhaar, PAN, voter ID cards as well as Giri cards for entry into forest and fishing licence. First time in these many years, a member of the community was elected as a deputy sarpanch of the village. The community also owns three motor boats donated by NGOs.

Most importantly, a fish processing unit with cold storage facility is being built in the village at a cost of Rs 33 lakh.Speaking to TNIE, P Uday Kumar, Collector of Nagarkurnool district, said that the processing unit is a livelihood project under the scheme of the Ministry of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSME) scheme.

Once the unit is ready, the Chenchus will be able to store fish for 1-2 days, package it and export it directly to the big markets in Hyderabad or Vijayawada. This way, the middlemen system will end and the tribals can earn Rs 60-70 per kg more. Currently, the entire village manages to get 70-80 kg of fish per week per family. The government will also provide a transportation facility to them, the collector added.The integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA), Mannanur, specifically meant for the Chenchus, is trying to provide a lot of facilities for forest dwellers.

“For all the Chenchu habitations we are providing housing schemes for those who are willing to construct. Till now, 102 houses have almost been constructed and another 400 would be taken up very shortly. For all the inhabitants electricity is being provided. For the few who live inside the forest, solar power is there,” Uday Kumar added.

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