A harrowing case of bonded labour has come to light in Karnatakaâ€™s Hassan district, where 12 people have been rescued from a sugarcane farm in connection with the case.
On December 9, a local NGO Shantha Jeeva Jyothi (SJJ) had received information that bonded labourers were kept captive at a sugarcane farm. SJJ received the information after one of the bonded labourers reached out to the NGO for help.
Around 3.30 pm on December 10, social workers with SJJ, along with the tahsildar of Shirastedar Ravi BS, the Holenarsipura Rural Police and officials with the Labour Department went to a sugarcane farm located in Holenarsipuraâ€™s Mundanahalli and rescued 12 people from bonded labour.
According to the Holenarsipura Rural Police, Nagamma (20), Mutthu (23), Rani (45), Subbanna (50), Roopa (15), Parashurama (24), Manoj (18), Nagaraju (22), Sharavana (13), Bhandari (12), Praveena (8) and Prajwal Kumara (13) were rescued from the farm.
Police say that the supervisors of the sugarcane farm, Bhadyanayaka and Somashekarappa, approached these 12 members of three different families with the promise of Rs 1,500 advance to each family. They were brought to Holenarsipura by the two supervisors four years ago.
The victims were in abject poverty and needed the money to survive and allegedly obtained the loan from Bhadyanayaka and Somashekarappa. Originally from Bhadravati in Shivamogga district, the victims were allegedly promised jobs and good pay along with a home.
Bhadyanayaka and Somashekarappa allegedly sent the victims to various sugarcane farms in Channarayapatna, Holenarasipura, Hospet, Ranebennur, Harihar and Hirekerur taluks for work, where they were made to cut the sugarcane in the fields and later transport it to sugarcane factories.
â€śThey were paid Rs 500 for 15 days of work and a tarpaulin sheet was given to them. They used this as a roof for makeshift hutments in the sugarcane farm in Mundanahalli. They were not given holidays and not allowed to go back to their hometown,â€ť the police said.
The officials also said that one of the victims, Mutthu, had escaped from the farm and gone back to Bhadravathi. However, he was brought back by Bhadyanayaka, who allegedly told him that he had to repay the loan of Rs 1,500 along with the interest that had accumulated for four years.
Mutthu managed to get in touch with a social worker from SJJ, who later informed the district administration about the victims, who were forced into bonded labour.
â€śOne of the supervisors would always monitor them and go with them to the local market. They would get one day off in a month and were given Rs 4,000 during festivals. This money, too, was counted as debt and they were not paid properly. Even the minors and children were made to work in sugarcane cutting units,â€ť the police added.
Bhadyanayaka and Somashekarappa have been booked under section 370 (human trafficking) of the Indian Penal Code and relevant sections of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act and Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act. The duo have been arrested and remanded to police custody, where they are being questioned.
The victims have been issued Release Certificates by the Hassan Deputy Commissionerâ€™s officer. However, the district administration officials say that there has been a delay in issuing compensation to the victims as they do not have proper identification documents.
â€śThey neither have Aadhaar cards or any ID cards nor bank accounts. We are helping them get these documents and then Rs 20,000 will be transferred to each of their accounts. They have returned to Bhadravati,â€ť said Babu, the case worker.