Chennai: It has been 6 days since 20-year-old Tamilselvi (name changed), a mother of a three-month old baby, was rescued by the Coimbatore district administration. However, the trauma continues to stick with her. Intense levels of abuse and discrimination at the brick kiln in Coimbatore, which includes feeding her toddler just once in a day, meagre pay and prolonged work hours had changed her as a person.
She is unwilling to trust the authorities, who promised help and is firm on her perception that ‘they are bound to be slaves to the rich.’ “How can I focus on work if my baby is crying for milk? We lead a compromising life only to clear our debts. There is nothing called respect here,” said Tamilselvi, who is from Dharmapuri district. She belongs to Arundathiyar community, a scheduled caste from Tamil Nadu.
Revenue department officials from Coimbatore who rescued Tamilselvi on September 3 are now processing the financial help under the provisions of Bonded Labour System (abolition) act, 1976.
In another heart-wrenching incident that happened in 2015, a Kancheepuram based Irula couple, who were working in a sugarcane field in Tirunelvi district, lost their one-year-old baby due to absence of access to medical care. – denial of access to the outside world made the oppression so intense that they were made to bury the baby inside the fields. When the couple sought permission to go to the hospital, the owners objected and apparently said: “You could go anywhere after clearing our debt.”
Quoting the shock-stricken mother, Dr. K. Krishnan, Excecutive director National Adivasi solidarity council told Deccan Chronicle: “Yenga Thala Vidhi, Naange Ingaye Podhachitom (It’s our fate. We buried the body here). Why was I born in an Irula community? Snakes and worms get more respect than we do.” Though they were rescued two months after the incident, they are yet to receive the compensation of Rs 20,000 under the act.
The fact that the majority of the bonded labourers belong to vulnerable groups adds to their miseries. “Bonded labourers are mostly seen in brick kilns, sugarcane fields and spinning mills. Rapid industrialisation has lead to tribals from Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu becoming victims of this violated profession. Irulas from Tamil Nadu, Yenadhi from Andhra, Chenchu tribe from Telangana forms the large number of bonded labourers,” said Dr. K. Krishnan.
As per the National Crime Records Bureau data for 2015, there was a 31.4% increase in bonded labour crimes in 2015 as compared to 2014. A total number of 92 cases were recorded with 426 victims
Uttar Pradesh had the most number of cases and 31 of the 49 victims were rescued.
Tamil Nadu had 15 cases of which 254 victims were rescued (a majority belonged to OBC - 242)
In Tamil Nadu, 15 cases of bonded labour were recorded, which included 254 victims. Of this, 242 belonged to OBC, and 12 belonged to ST groups.
109 arrests were made in 2015 in relation to bonded labour cases nationally.
73 of those arrested were between the age groups 30 and 45 years
22 were arrested between the age group 45 and 60 years
14 were arrested between the age group 18 and 30 years