National Executive meeting of Kalyan Ashram in Hawrah
KENDRIYA Karyakari Mandal of Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram which met in Hawrah on February 21 urged the government to curb bonded labour in the country completely and to rehabilitate all those rescued. The meeting expressed grave concern over the prevalence of Bonded Labour system in many parts of the country even after 36 years of the enactment and enforcement of Bonded Labour System Abolition Act 1976. Majority of the victims of this bad practice are Scheduled Tribes living in very inhospitable terrain bereft of gainful employment during the lean agricultural months. The resolution was moved by Shri SK Kaul, IAS (retd.).
In a resolution adopted at the meeting, the Karyakari Mandal said the country is finding a lot of neo-bonded labour in brick kilns, rice mills, cotton mills, construction work and in industries that use heavy manual labour and is equally widespread across states.
Estimates about the number of bonded labourers in the country vary from 40 million, according to Human Rights Watch, to 11.7 million, according to the International Labour Organization. Every year in November, brick kiln workers, mostly tribal with hunger gnawing inside them migrate from Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh to West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu to escape abject poverty. This ‘distress migration’ of tribal workers from the districts of Bolangir, Koraput, Kalahandi, and Kandhamal is estimated to be at least 2 lakhs to work in brick kilns in Andhra Pradesh according to the study by an NGO. It is a matter of concern that the administrations of these districts do not implement properly the schemes like NREGS to provide gainful employment to villagers in their villages or nearby.
Describing bonded labour as modern day slavery, the resolution said in Andhra Pradesh, such people are sent to brick kilns in Ranga Reddy, Medak and Nalgonda districts where they work for a pittance. According to the Minimum Wages Act, a pair of workers should be paid Rs. 367 for making 1000 bricks. But in reality, a family (3-4 members) is paid just Rs.150-200.
Another issue is the government machinery that is supposed to go with the law. Each district is supposed to have a Vigilance Committee under the Act which in many cases does not exist or does not pro-actively go out to conduct raids. Further, the money due under the Act for rehabilitation schemes also takes long to come. The most important thing is to mobilise the victims. Schemes like NREGS are good because they provide some guarantee in people’s mind that they don’t have to work in such conditions out of sheer desperation.
The meeting also discussed at length the ongoing violence in Rabha area of Lower Assam. Shri Jaleshwar Brahma explained his experience of his tour to the troubled area. He said the situation could have been averted if the government had shown some sagacity. It is for the third time in recent years that the indigenous inhabitants of Assam, especially Janajati people are targeted by the Bangladeshi infiltrators. The Kalyan Ashram demanded a judicial probe into the firing incident on February 12 and the attack that followed on the indigenous people by alleged Bangladeshis. 13 people of Rabha Janjati community died in the police firing which inflamed the people. As a result violence spread in many areas. Muslim hooligans came out armed with staffs, spears and machetes and burnt down houses, Rabhas and other indigenous inhabitants. 7 persons of Rabha, Orang and Nepali community workers were killed in the Rakshashini area by Muslims and 7 villages in the area were burnt. Villagers in large numbers vacated the houses and are compelled to stay in refugee camps. Hoodlums are at large looting the houses of abandoned villagers. Army columns patrolling the troubled areas recovered three big boats anchored on the banks of the Brahmaputra at Dubapara in Goalpara district and it is reported that about 1,000 Muslims from Barpeta came to Goalpara by these vessels. The Kalyan Ashram appealed the Government to speed up the process of updating National Register of Citizens as per the Assam Accord 1985.