The women, Sumitra* and Reema* had allegedly been trafficked to work in the factory from Jharkhand in October 2019.

Women walking in a field Image for representation. By Suheil Ahmed/Picxy
news Exploitation Wednesday, May 27, 2020 - 17:45

Two Adivasi women hailing from Dumka district in Jharkhand have been rescued from an incense factory – Bharat Chemical Products – in Bengaluru where they were allegedly exploited and one of them was allegedly gang raped. Both women are mothers to a five-year-old and an eight-year-old child respectively.

Not only were the women allegedly trafficked from Jharkhand seven months ago, they were allegedly not paid adequate wages, had their movement restricted, were kept in cramped quarters and made to work for 15 hours a day, say activists.

The factory is located in Kengeri Hobli, Bengaluru, and an FIR has been registered at the Kumbalagudu police station of the Ramanagara district. While the factory comes under Bengaluru Urban administrative district, the police jurisdiction is that of Kumbalaguru police station in Ramanagra.

An activist involved in the case, Mallige, who is with the Karnataka Janashakti migrant workers’ helpline, said that the police have not registered a case of trafficking and bonded labour. A copy of the FIR dated May 23, 2020 reveals that the case has only been registered under the IPC section 376D (gang rape) and the SC and ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. “Till date, there has been no serious action against the factory, its owner. The factory has not been raided despite this instance of trafficking and bonded labour,” Mallige tells TNM.

The exploitation and rape

The two women – Sumitra* and Reema* - were allegedly trafficked from Jharkhand via Delhi in October 2019, and were taken straight to the factory from the Bengaluru Railway Station. They were promised Rs 9000 and Rs 7000 each but were paid only Rs 200 a week and given three meals a day.

The women were allegedly made to sleep in a cramped room with many others, and were made to work even when they were sick. They were not allowed to step out of the factory, even to buy essentials like soap or oil. This entire time, the women’s children were also with them.

Sumitra and Reema did manage to escape the factory in early January this year. However, they were tracked down by a supervisor of the factory identified as Sanjeev, who allegedly found them at the Bengaluru Railway station and forced them to come back to the factory.

Upon their return, Sumitra and Reema were allegedly brutally beaten up, and threatened by Sanjeev for their life. He also threatened them with rape, and forcibly took away the Aadhaar card and phone of one of the women.

To add to the women’s ordeal, two of the men who worked for Sanjeev – Nur Islam Ansari and Suresh Gour – allegedly raped one of the women twice.

The two women told the rescuers that the factory owner was allegedly complicit, and did not do anything to take action against the atrocities against them.

Nur Islam and Suresh are in judicial custody.

The escape and how the case came to light

Sumitra and Reema were finally able to escape from the factory with their children in mid-March. However, the lockdown added to their woes, and compelled them to hide in the bushy forest of Kumbalagudu, and to beg for food.

Some weeks later, another contractor named Ali Asghar offered them food and shelter which the women accepted. However, he too allegedly made sexual advances towards one of the women.

The case only came to light because the women reached out to Nicolas, a construction worker also from Dumka in Jharkhand, who the women met on May 5 when all three of them were at the Kumbalagudu police station to register to get on a train to return to Jharkhand. They shared their ordeal with Nicolas, who reached out to some friends in this district in Jharkhand. After someone pointed out the women’s plight on social media, the case was picked up by Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN) and Migrant Workers Helpline of Karnataka Janashakti.

While an FIR regarding the incident with contractor Ali Asghar was registered in Kengeri, the one regarding the women’s ordeal at Bharat Chemical Products was then registered in Kumbalagudu.

No response from or prosecution of the company

TNM called multiple numbers found online for Bharat Chemical Products but received no response.

Meanwhile, Mallige says that there has been no FIR against the company itself for allegedly allowing these atrocities against Sumitra and Reema – the FIR in Kumbalagudu has only been registered against Nur Islam and Suresh.

“No FIRs have so far been filed against the company owner, Devendran. The police in both the stations have been helpful in dealing with this case with urgency. The Department of Social Welfare has acted promptly and has paid a compensation to the rape survivor,” a release by activist groups involved in their rescue said.

“This is another grim reminder of exploitation by some private companies who remain unaccountable to the government and the people. On its part, the exploitation is happening under the aegis of the government so this calls into question government accountability as well. Further, the administrative procedures to even file FIRs and seek compensation are inaccessible and opaque to the poor. This makes it near impossible for the poor, without civil society mediation, to have a stake at the justice system,” it adds.

Mallige says that Sumitra and Reema are currently at a shelter home with their children. “They want to go home, but they want to do so only after they are done with the legal formalities to bring the accused to book. They have not yet given their statement before the magistrate.”

She adds that the police, on the activists’ insistence, have approached the magistrate to add sections for trafficking and bonded labour in the FIR as well. 

Show us some love! Support our journalism by becoming a TNM Member - Click here.