//Slavery, bonded labour flourishing in Varanasi

Slavery, bonded labour flourishing in Varanasi

Varanasi (ICNS) — A fact-finding report from the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) says slavery and bonded labour are flourishing under police protection in Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh because of government neglect.

According to the report, AHRC says its local partner, the Peoples’ Vigilance Committee for Human Rights (PVCHR), conducted a survey about bonded labour – effectively slavery – being practiced by brick kiln owners in Varanasi District.

“Dozens of families have reportedly been bought for small amounts of money and are being forced to work in the brick kilns. They are paid a pittance each week, not as payment, but as money to buy food for survival,” it said.

This ensures that they are unable to repay their debts to the brick kiln owners and continue to be bound by the vicious circle of bonded labour.

The PVCHR is currently protecting two persons who escaped from the custody of their owners. The PVCHR has also lodged a complaint with the authorities in India.

However, a complaint lodged with the police resulted in a raid in which the police took into custody two persons who were working at the kilns. The police then took them to the police station and beat them, for having complained against their owners. The police reportedly threatened them with severe consequences if they dare to complain again in the future.

The following is an instance of slavery and bonded labor that AHRC/PVCHR have reported:

On February 19, Mr. Suresh (son of Chandrma and a resident of Mahasipur village), Mr. Jagdish (son of Bhagwati and a resident of Phulpur village) and Mr. Sitalu (son of Munnilal and a resident of Mahasipur village) came to the offices of PVCHR in Varanasi to complain about their employer. On inquiry, it was revealed that they were being forced to work at a brick kiln in Amauli village that is jointly owned by three brothers, Mr. Savaru Yadav, Mr. Namuna Yadav and Mr. Namvar Yadav.

Suresh, Jagdish and Sitalu complained that they came to the brick kiln because they were offered Rs. 1000 as a cash loan by Savaru, Namuna and Namvar, for which they were asked to work at the kiln as a means to pay back their debts.

They were also forced to bring their families to work at the kilns. They have been forced to work every day without a break, even when they are sick. Those who have complained have been tied up and beaten. Those who have wanted to leave, promising that they could arrange for payment of their debts by other means, have also been subjected to the same treatment. No-one has been allowed to leave. Apart from the three persons who came to the PVCHR, there are thought to be tens of other families facing similar conditions at these kilns.

The weekly payment for the bonded labourers at the kilns is Rs. 100 per week. This money is used to buy food for the entire family to stay alive. It is not sufficient to begin aying back the debts. It is alleged that the owners of the kiln also sell families to other kiln owners or industrialists who are in need of labour.

Suresh and Sitalu reportedly felt they could not return for fear of reprisals, however, Jagdish did return since his wife and his father were still at the kiln. Sitalu has informed PVCHR that the owners have agreed to free anyone if they pay Rs. 6000.00 (US 136) per person.

PVCHR filed a complaint at the Chaubeypur police station and also with the District Magistrate of Varanasi about the case on February 19, 2006. However, on receipt of the complaint, the police, on the pretext of raiding the kiln to arrest the owners and to free the people, took into custody Mr. Sachinder and Mr. Chotelal, who were also being held under bonded labour. They were taken to the police station where the Station House Officer shouted at them, asking them why their colleagues had complained against the owners of the kiln. They were tortured and were threatened with further beatings if any more complaints were made against their owners. They were released on February 20, 2006, but only after having to pay Rs. 250.00 to Rs. 1000.00. They arranged payment of the money to the police by borrowing it from other persons.

PVCHR took Sachinder to the District Hospital Varanasi the next day, where the doctor examined him and has provided a medical report detailing his injuries. A complaint, along with a copy of the medical report and a narration of the facts, was immediately faxed to the National Human Rights Commission. A second complaint and copy of the medical report was lodged with the District Magistrate on February 21, 2006. Yet another complaint was filed with the Senior Superintendent of Police on February 22, 2006. None of these complaints have as yet been acted upon.