Slavery in Bengaluru: Tale of Odisha farmers forced into labour, threatened with violence, rape
Slavery in Bengaluru: Tale of Odisha farmers forced into labour, threatened with violence, rape

Slavery in Bengaluru: Tale of Odisha farmers forced into labour, threatened with violence, rape

They were brought to Bengaluru with promises of good salary and education, but they were reduced to being modern day slaves.

Eight months ago, eight families from Odisha’s Naupada and Nabrangpur districts travelled to Bengaluru with dreams of a better livelihood.

A total of 31 members including 12 children aged between three and 13 years were in the group that came to Bengaluru. Nineteen were promised jobs at a brick kiln in Bagalur with Rs 7,000 salary per month per adult and education for their children.

Little did they know that their dreams would turn to ashes, that they would live with the fear of getting physically hurt and be trapped inside the factory. Their freedom restricted, food and clean water a rarity and no way to escape, they had never dreamt that they would be bonded labourers.

These workers were rescued by the Karnataka State Anti-Human Trafficking Unit, the Bengaluru Urban District Administration, the Bagalur Police and an NGO – International Justice Mission, on May 25.

The Bagalur Police have booked the owner of the brick kiln – Bramha Naidu and the supervisor – Sathya Goud under IPC section 370 (trafficking of persons) the Bonded Labour (Abolition) Act, 1976 and the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016. Bramha Naidu and Sathya are absconding and police are looking out for them.

The families are all set to make their way back to Odisha and vow to never return to Bengaluru.

How did the families get tricked into becoming bonded labourers?

In August 2016, a man named Akbar Jagath visited a few villages in Naupada and Nabrangpur districts.

He would enter a village and gain information about farmers whose crops had failed and were looking for a job to feed their families.

Once Akbar spotted these desperate farmers, he would make them a proposal that they could not refuse.

“Akbar told us that there is a brick factory in Bengaluru which pays Rs 7,000 per adult for a month. He told us that the owner would also give us an advance of Rs 18,000, a place to stay which had beds, electricity and drinking water. He also said that our children will be enrolled in schools. We were also promised chicken and fish once in a week,” said Chaitanya Sahu, one of the rescued victims.

To reassure them that all would be well, the owner of SVB Brick Factory, Bramha Naidu had gone to Kantabaji town in Odisha to meet the eight families. He had also handed over the Rs 18,000 he had promised for each adult worker.

Owner of SVB Brick Factory, Bramha Naidu

As their initial promise was met, the 31 members felt that they would not be cheated and that Bramha Naidu would be a good employer, who would take care of them.

In October 2016, the 31 members along with Akbar Jagath’s employee, Babu began their journey to Bengaluru city.

What these innocent and gullible Adivasis from Odisha witnessed when they entered the brick kiln, made them begin to lose hope gradually.

The horrifying tale of exploitation

“When we arrived at the factory, the supervisor, Sathya Goud, gave us a few bricks and torn tin sheets. He told us to build small hutments within the factory premises for ourselves. We were extremely disappointed. Akbar had told us that we would be provided with decent accommodation,” said Chaitanya Sahu, one of the workers at the kiln.

When they informed Sathya that they were promised accommodation, he laughed at them and began abusing them.

“He told us that this was what we would get and told us to get to work. With no other option, we built small hutments. The tin sheets were torn and when it rained, we used to get drenched,” Chaithanya added.

Tuesday was their payday and the families faced another shocker on payday. They were given only Rs 270 per week for their food and at the end of the month, when they expectantly asked for their salaries, they realised that they were not going to get the promised Rs 7,000 per month.

The supervisor at the brick kiln, Sathya Goud

“They said that we were only going to get Rs 270 for food. They also did not allow us to step outside the factory. The supervisor, Sathya, and his wife Kamala were always watching us. Every Tuesday, one of us would make a list of groceries and Sathya would accompany us to the market to buy it. We were allowed to talk to our families in Odisha once a week and Sathya would always be present during these conversations to ensure that we do not reveal any information about our horrible living conditions,” said Labhu Ram, another victim, who was rescued from the kiln.

The women would wake up at 3 am every morning to prepare food and by 5.30 am, they had to get to work. They would get a half-an-hour lunch break, after which they would have to work till 6.30 pm again.

“When we were working, we could not rest our arms or feet for even one minute or Sathya would abuse us and beat us up,” Chaithanya recounts.

The children were allowed to go to school only for the first month, after which they were put to work.

Except for the three-year-old baby Sushanth Sahu, all the other children were made to work the same hours as the adult, but they were to turn the bricks over in the hot sun.

“They did not care about our health. When the kids had a fever or even if any of the adults did, Kamala would give a syrup or a pill and tell us to get to work immediately. Once, my daughter was asleep as she had a horrible fever. Kamala, gave her a pill and dragged her out, while abusing her and telling her to work,” said Tara Sobar, a woman, who was rescued from the same kiln.

In January, Labhu’s grandmother passed away. When he approached Sathya and asked him for a leave, Sathya allegedly refused to let him visit his grandmother one last time.

“He told me that I was not allowed to leave. He said even if I defied him and ran away with my wife and sister; it would be easy for him to catch us because we had no money. Then he said he would bring us back here, beat me up and restrain me. He also said that he would rape my wife and sister in front of me while I watched,” Labhu recounts.

How did the authorities find out about the trapped workers?

Later in January, Chaithanya got lucky one day and he was able to make a call to his elder brother in Odisha.

Chaithanya informed his brother about the horrifying working and living conditions.

“They did not know whom to approach for help. My brother informed the other families and no one had a clue how to get us out of here,” Chaitanya added.

It was only in May, that members of the International Justice Forum in Odisha learnt of their plight.

 “The raid was conducted and the 31 people were rescued,” said a member of IJM.

The nexus

According to the rescued workers, many agents like Akbar Jagath, visit drought-hit villages across Odisha and recruit workers with false and lavish promises.

They bring them to the cities and hand them over to the owners of various factories be it plastic recycling or brick kilns and never let them go out.

 “We could not think of escaping. We had no money and if we got caught, our women were faced with the threat of getting raped and we would be beaten up brutally. Since Bramha Naidu always told us that he is very well connected in the city, we did not know if he was capable of bribing the police. We thought that even if we called the police, we could not be saved,” Labhu said.

After a lucky escape, the workers are now ready to head home. They all vow to never return to the city.

The News Minute