PUCL Bulletin, Oct. 2000

Bonded labourers in a stone quarry
A ghastly episode of inhuman tyranny

June 13, 2000

In 'Hangarhalli' a village of Srirangapattana Taluka of Mandya District, Puttaswamy, an ex-member of Mysore City Corporation, owns a stone quarry. Puttaswamy's son: Arun Kumar and his son-in-law: Srinivas assisted by one Muniyappa are supervising the said stone-quarry. Eighty members of twenty three families are working in this stone quarry. Out of these sixteen are child-labourers. They work from morning till evening. Seventy five percent of these people belong to Bovi caste and the remaining are from other castes. Most of the people working here are from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Mandya, Mysore Chamrajnagar Districts. These details are not as significant as the plenty that has to ensue.

Venkatesh and his son Gopal, Venkatachal, Nagraj as well as Krishna are five workers form this querry. They had taken Advance money from the Quarry owner Puttaswamy as wages for their labour. The treatment that Puttaswamy has meted out to these men is so harrowingly inhuman that is hardly believable. They remained fettered with 24 kg. Iron chains which were welded around their legs. This was done purposely to prevent them from escaping the clever dragnet set for them on the sheer plea that they might abscond after taking the advance money.

These people had to go for daily work along with the heavy shakles that they were wearing. Venkatesh and his son Gopal from Katana village and Venkatachala from Kyatanahalli were enchained for two years, whereas Nagraj was shackled six months back and Krishna from Mogarallymenti for two months. They had to do this work with their chains on.

Approximately sixteen children were working as child Labourers from morning till evening and were paid less than Rs 10/- per day. Sometimes the Goondas were engaged by Puttuswamy to beat the parents of these children to make them to shudder and shrival. The tiny hands of these children which would ordinarily be handling toys, pen and paper were forced to adopt hammers for cruising stones. It is Puttuswamy who mercilessly forced these innocent children to take to hammers.

The above named bonded-labourers who were got freed from the clutches of these barbarians by the Task Force of Karnataka Rajya Rayata Sangh in drastic campaign gave an account of their gruesome experience in the following words:

If ever a worker would proceed on leave of absence he would be heavily penalised. On the pretext of variation in the grade of crushed stones we were denied wages for the whole day and a fine of Rs 100/- was imposed on us.

If ever the parents would go to clam down their sobbing children, they were beaten harshly.

Incase of any advance payment compound interest was added to the Principal amount. Once a person fell into this trap he could never hope to get himself extricated.

The volume of work to be done per day was predetermined by the Employers, without any human considerations and if we failed to reach the set target we would be denied our wages for the whole day.

In this self styled kingdom they were the sovereigns and every dictate of theirs was a word of law. Anybody raising an objection or question would be tied up to a tree and beaten ruthlessly.

A group of sycophants was exclusively used for harassing us. We were compelled to tolerate all this tyranny and to live in this hellish atmosphere.
Only now do we feel free to breathe".

It is a tragedy that such a heinous crime was being committed in the District from which our Hon'ble Chief Minister hails.

Why did the State District Administration remain tongue tied for all these years, when the victims who could not afford to absolve themselves of the so called debt, were living in pathetic sub human conditions?

Were the local Police, Labour Dept authorities and the Tehsildar completely ignorant about what was happening under their very nose?

It is understood that the Lease Permit of the Quarry in the name of Puttyswamy had already become defunct as the date of Permit had already expired. How was it that though he had permission for stone quarrying for only two acres, he had extended his quarrying in an area of 7 to 8 acres? Why did the Govt. veaurocracy fail in its vigil and how could they tolerate such a transgression of lawful rights.

It came to our notice that the District and Taluka Administration had been negligent in their duty and that they had acted most irresponsibly.

During 1993-94 'JEEVIKA' and N.G.O. identified twenty bonded labourers and sent a petition to the Panchayat Raj Minister pleading for rehabilitation of all the bonded labourers.

Even the National Human Rights Commission in its Venugopal report exhorted that all these people ought to be rehabilitated.

On the basis of these recommendations the State Secretary of Panchayat Raj Dept. Issued a circular on 30-3-99 to all the D.C.S. of 48 Taluqas ordering them to submit a Survey repot about the number of bonded labour in their Taluqas.

On 30-9-99 Sh.Sanjay Kumar, D.C. of Mandya Distt sent a report to Panchayati Raj Deptt. Stating that no bonded labour existed in his District.

On 25-8-99 the Tahsildar or Sri Rang Patna reported to A.C. of Pandavpura that no bonded labour was found in his Taluqa.

On 2nd January, 1993 the State Government had allocated 120 acres of land in Mandya District for turning this land into ten Agricultural Estates and that these estates were to be used for the rehabilitation of freed bonded-labour.

But without proper Enquirer they declared that there were no bonded labourers and they most irresponsibly evaded the Government orders and failed to develop the land ear-marked by the Government for the noble cause of rehabilitation of freed bonded labourers. This neglect is really unpardonable.

We strongly denounce and condemn such ignoble deeds and urge the Government to give immediate heed to the following recommendations:

  1. The Bonded Labour Abolition Act should amended so that the crime of keeping bonded labour becomes an unbailable and cognizable offence.
  2. That the surveys for locating bonded labour should not be conducted by the Government agencies only. There should a provision made for cooping N.G.O sector and other activities for conducting such surveys.
  3. The District Commissioner of Mandya District and other concerned authorities who failed to give correct information should be reprimanded and castigated under rules.
  4. The Govt should appoint a higher level Committee comprising of both Govt. and N.G.Os for emancipation of bonded labour.
  5. A task force, should be created to work for the liberation of bonded labourers, wherever existing. This should include representative as N.G.O also.
  6. Labour working in quarries should be declared a labour belonging to unorganised sector and should be given minimum wage, P.F., Gratuity, bonus and health maintenance facilities.
  7. Under the Provisions of the Anti Child- Labour Act the Employer should be penalised by making him pay Rs 20,000/- each to all the victimized sixteen children so that these children are in a position to get requisite education.
  8. That in all the Districts of Karnataka, the land allotted for rehabilitating liberated bonded labourers should be converted into Agricultural Estates and used for the purpose of alleviating the miseries of these people.

-- By Munichowdappa, Venkatesh, Mandakini (Ms), Mathews Philip June 13, 2000

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