Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Over 2,000 rescued from bonded labour since 2016, struggle without a rehabilitation package

Thimmanna Hanumanta Bisiholgi and Siddappa Laxman Bangari, freed bonded labourers from Chunchanur village of Ramadurga taluk in Belgavi district showing their ‘release certificates’.

Thimmanna Hanumanta Bisiholgi and Siddappa Laxman Bangari, freed bonded labourers from Chunchanur village of Ramadurga taluk in Belgavi district showing their ‘release certificates’.

Those who were freed from bonded labour in the State from 2016, 2,252 of them, have alleged they are yet to get rehabilitation packages from the State government owing to new norms introduced in 2017, and are planning to hold a massive protest in the city on February 7. 

Those rescued from bonded labour will get compensation in the range of ₹1 lakh to ₹3 lakh under a Central scheme. However, if an FIR is registered in the case, those freed from bonded labour will get an immediate ex-gratia of ₹30,000 and the remaining amount only after the case is settled in the court.

Norms of the Union government allows for a ‘summary trial’ by the district magistrate within 24 hours from the date of identification or rescue of the bonded labourers even if no FIR has been lodged. Only in case of other offences being made out against the employer is filing of FIRs required, explained Kiran Kamal Prasad, founder of Jeevika, an organisation fighting against bonded labour. As per these rules, 61,610 individuals rescued from bonded labour have got their rehabilitation package since 2001 to 2016. 

However, as per the new Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) issued by the State government in 2017, officials have to file FIRs against employers when an individual is rescued from bonded labour in every case. This has essentially delayed rehabilitation package for those rescued from bonded labour till the trial in the case is concluded in a court. “This disregards the main objective of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976,” said Mr. Prasad. 

The long wait and threats to sabotage cases 

In many cases, as those freed from bonded labour wait for their rehabilitation, employers who held them earlier are pressurising them, threatening them to withdraw cases. Such cases have been reported from many districts, including Chickballapur, Mandya, Mysuru, and Belagavi, those rescued from bonded labour say. 

Thimmanna Hanumanta Bisiholgi, a freed bonded labourer from Chunchanur village, Ramadurga taluk, Belagavi district, said that he, his father, and his grandfather were bonded labourers. “In 2016, the government freed me and gave me a release certificate. Also, a case has been registered against the employer. As the case is still in court, I have not received any rehabilitation package from the government. Even as no one else is giving me work in the village, the previous employer threatened me and got my signature on an affidavit stating that I was not working in his house and submitted it to the court,” he said.

Siddappa Laxman Bangari, another person freed from bonded labour in the same village, said that despite meeting officials at the DC’s office requesting them for a rehabilitation package, it had not yielded any results. “They say that since the case is pending in the court, rehabilitation is not possible until the final verdict. It is difficult to live like this,” he said. 

Protest demanding withdrawal of SOPs

All those freed of bonded labour but yet to be rehabilitated have now decided to hold a protest at Freedom Park on February 7, demanding the withdrawal of SOPs that make filing FIRs mandatory. 

“Karnataka is stressing on investigation rather than rehabilitation of those rescued from bonded labour. This is against the spirit of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976. We have met senior officials of the government several times, but have not got any relief. So we have decided to protest,” said Patlu Govindaraju, an activist fighting for the rights of those rescued from bonded labour.

One thought on “Over 2,000 rescued from bonded labour since 2016, struggle without a rehabilitation package

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