#India – 273 bonded labourers rescued in Tiruvallur


SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, The Hindu , June 12

The Odisha natives, who had been working under inhuman conditions in brick kilns, were sent back home on Tuesday night — Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam
The HinduThe Odisha natives, who had been working under inhuman conditions in brick kilns, were sent back home on Tuesday night — Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam

At the end of an investigation that went on through the night until the crack of dawn on Tuesday, district officials established they were victims of bonded labour

Uttam was given only one day off in a week to venture out of the brick kiln. Even on that day somebody would accompany him.

Uttam was one of the 273 labourers from Odisha who were tricked into working as bonded labourers at two brick kilns in Chennai’s neighbouring Tiruvallur district. The labourers, who were allegedly working under inhuman conditions for a weekly payment of Rs. 300 to Rs. 400 per family, were rescued by revenue officials in an overnight raid on Monday.

At the end of an investigation that went on through the night until the crack of dawn on Tuesday, district officials established they were victims of bonded labour.

One hundred and eighty nine workers were handed ‘release certificates’ that identified them as bonded labourers, thereby enabling them for government rehabilitation packages. They were also given Rs. 1,000 each as initial rehabilitation payments and tickets for their journey to Bolanghir in Odisha.

Huddled beside Dhanbad Express at Chennai Central station on Tuesday evening and clinging to their meagre belongings, they recalled the difficult working conditions in the kilns, where even children were made to work.

Manoj from Kantabanji in Odisha, who worked as a driver at the kiln, got just three to four hours of sleep every day. “I was promised a salary of Rs. 7,000 a month, but got Rs. 15,000 for three months and nothing for the last two.”

While the labourers spoke in Odia, Annie Baptist, a volunteer with International Justice Mission (IJM), the NGO that assisted the district officials with the rescue, translated.

Sountharba, (45), said the family had taken a loan of Rs. 50,000 for her son’s wedding which they were unable to repay. When a ‘seth’ (middleman) offered to pay them an advance of Rs. 48,000 for four members in the family, they went to work in the kilns as they wanted to pay back the debt taken from other persons.

“My husband, son, daughter-in-law and I came here in January and were made to work six days a week from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. with few breaks in between,” she said.

Twelve-year-old Dinesh, who spoke little Hindi, said he attended school between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. and was then made to work between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. Baduku, another labourer, complained that if one of the members in the family was unwell, the wages would be accordingly cut.

After seven months of working close to 17 hours a day for six days a week at a place nearly 1,200 kilometers away from their home districts of Bolanghir, Naupada, Barghar and Nabranghpur districts in Odisha, the labourers on Tuesday night boarded the Dhanbad Express for a day-long journey home.

No criminal charges

Tiruvallur district collector K. Veera Raghava Rao said the labourers were rescued from the two kilns that were operating under the name ‘Eswari Brick Works’ in Thirukandalam village of Otthukottai taluk. Though the descriptions of the working conditions, provided by IJM, which assisted the district officials, sounded grave, the revenue department could only file penalties against the proprietors of the brick kiln under the Bonded Labour Abolition Act (BLA) of 1976, Mr. Rao said.

When it was pointed out that a press release from IJM noted that some labourers were beaten by the employers for demanding fair payment, the Collector said details would be collected of specific instances and if required, cases would be filed under IPC.

Tiruvallur district has close to 300 brick kilns that provide resources for the booming construction industry in Chennai. It is populated with a lot of labour-intensive small industries, including rice mills.

(With inputs from Asha Sridhar)

 

Maruti Suzuki :Ignition Trouble And After


Outlook Magazine  | May 13, 2013

 

Panini Anand
Court time Maruti hands being brought for a hearing
labour: maruti
Ignition Trouble And After
Jail, families thrown into trauma, grim future: the sacked Maruti labourers still harried
Cruel figures
  • 1 death in Maruti’s Manesar plant, of its HR manager Awanish Kumar Dev in July 2012, which led to a one-month lockout.
  • 66 workers on the run; in all, numerous cases have been filed against more than 200 workers at the Manesar plant
  • 147 workers lodged in Bhondsi jail, Gurgaon, for the past 9 months, named in up to 12 charges of murder
  • 550 permanent workers “suspended” by Maruti; 400 of them are agitating for jobs and an impartial probe.
  • 2100 sacked contract workers, many unemployed, have been forced to hide their connection to Maruti

***

The Hammer Strikes

  • Hearings have just begun on the framing of charges in the Gurgaon session court
  • Statement of officers recorded in charge sheet, but no versions of workers
  • Two counter complaints from workers have named 17 officials of Maruti
  • Maruti seeking to dismiss 550 suspended workers from the Labour tribunal
  • New committee of disgruntled former workers in initial talks with Maruti

***

“Are you from Maruti, or the state police department?” asks a visibly frightened lady when we knock at the door of her house in Dhakal village, Jind district, Haryana. She’s Omi Devi, mother of Jiyalal, a 27-year-old ITI dipl­oma-holder and employee at Maruti Suzuki’s Manesar plant till the horrific incidents of July 18, 2012. That day, an argument Jiyalal had (over a caste slur) with his supervisor is said to have been the trigger for the cataclysmic events that followed—worker protests turned violent, leading to the death of an HR manager Awanish Kumar Dev, sending 100 workers and officials to hospital and enforcing a month-long lockout.

For nine months now, Jiyalal—and 146 former Maruti workers—have been lodged in Bhondsi Jail of Gurgaon. “The only mistake my son made was to speak out against the abusive language and casteist remarks. Tell me, is it wrong to stand up against such humiliation?” asks Ram Pal, his 50-year-old father. Jiyalal was supporting a family of eight—which is still in a state of shock. Aman, his 15-month-old son, has no memories of his father; his wife Sonia still looks scared, and Omi Devi keeps on crying. “Once my son is out from the jail, I will never ever let him go to work in such inhuman companies.”

That might take a while—the human cost of this labour incident has been staggering and disproportionate to the one death. After all, 12 charges of murder and more (rioting with weapons, attempt to murder, unlawful assembly, and so on) have been imposed on 147 workers. FIRs have been lodged against another 66, who are on the run. Some 400 terminated workers are protesting in Haryana, seeking their rights and entitlements from Maruti Suzuki. And over 2,000 former contract and apprentice workers at the plant are trying to rebuild their lives in fear and anonymity.

Through their relatives, the workers in jail insist that they are not being treated fairly and that the “real conspirators and culprits are blaming the innocents”. The stories from behind the bars are depressing—of pregnant wives, ailing parents, starving families, malnourished children, debts and loans. “All requests of bail plea or the parole custody plea have so far been rejected. The situations at our homes are worsening day by day. We knocked at many doors—from the prime minister’s to those of local politicians—but nobody hears the pain of the poor,”  an accused worker told Outlook.

About a year back, violence broke out at Maruti’s plant in Gurgaon. Workers arrested then still see no hope ahead.

All this matters now because the hearings in the case in the sessions court, Gurgaon, began on May 1 (Labour Day, incidentally). The chargesheet, exceeding 400 pages, has been filed but workers and their counsel have declared it incomplete. “The challans have been given to us, but there’s no list of witnesses. They’ve given the pretext that it’s unsafe to disclose the names. And workers’ acc­o­unts have not been taken into consideration at all. Only statements by Maruti officials have been taken,” says Rohtak-based senior advocate Randeep S. Huda, who is representing these workers. After an argument over the chargesheet, the sessions court ordered  public prosecutor K.T.S. Tulsi to provide all documents to the workers’  counsel.Despite repeated requests, Maruti did not respond to a questionnaire from Outlook. Recently, the company appointed two top Japanese managers to tackle the HR and production facilities at the Manesar plant. Since the incident, the company has also raised wages for contract workers at the Manesar plant—a key demand behind the workers’ initial agitation.


Far away Jiyalal’s wife holds up his photo. (Photograph by Sanjay Rawat)

Also, of the 540 dismissed permanent workers of Maruti’s Manesar plant, 400 come from Haryana itself. Two districts—Jind (150 workers) and Kaithal (120 workers)—make up the maximum numbers. The terminated workers are sitting on an agitation at the district commissioner’s complex in Kaithal. Recently, they had a small victory: talks with the Maruti management in the last week of April, first since the incident in July 2012. Further talks had been sch­eduled for the first week of May.

The terminated workers are dem­anding an independent inquiry into the nine-month-old incident. When Outlook  visited the district collector’s complex in Kaithal, it found a clutch of workers, most of them in their 20s, eating, reading newspapers and discussing strategy (some of them had gone back to the villages for harvesting). “We started our agitation in Kaithal because Randeep Singh Surjewala, the minister of commerce and industries in Haryana, is from this place. Moreover, we have a base and big public support in this area. It has been more than a month and we have no money to go on with the protest. But villagers, people from the city and nearby areas are providing us food and other essential support,” says Katar Singh, member of the Provisional Committee of Sacked Maruti Workers.

It’s not easy: a new seven-member committee was formed in August last year. Two members of this committee are named in another FIR that has been lodged by the Maruti management; one of them has since been arrested, another is underground. Initially, the protest started in March outside the residence of Surjewala, but they were forced to leave. They then went to meet Aam Admi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal, who is from Hissar, in  Haryana. But despite their meeting him 13 times, he didn’t speak a word for them. Now they are prepared to fight on their own. Sitting below a photo of Bhagat Singh and a next to a CD player belting out revolutionary songs, Bharat Kumar, one of the agitators, spews bitterness: “We always looked towards Maruti as a home but they (the management) never accepted the workers as family members.”

Yashvir Malik, 26, is one of the workers sitting in protest in Kaithal. He comes from Sudkain Khurd, a border village between Jind and Kaithal districts. His father, Ram Kumar, is a farmer with a landholding of some 1.25 acres and heavily in debt. “Yashvir is our only hope for all that we need at this age. I have no work; one leg is weak after a bad accident. My wife, too, suffers from age-related problems, anxiety. But now my only son is jobless—who will marry him? See what they have done to us,” says Ram Kumar.

Maruti workers who lost their jobs protest outside the district collector’s office in Kaithal, Haryana.

Yashvir’s family—and other villagers—are firm on fighting for the rights of these youth from their area. Yashvir’s family comes from Malik khap—the biggest khap of Haryana. When asked about the Gurgaon khaps supporting Maruti’s management, Ram Kumar says, “Gurgaon is not Haryana. The politics of Haryana is decided more from our and nearby districts. The khaps there are looking to their own interests and they are speaking the same language as our chief minister, but this is not going to help them.” It’s evident that the workers are lobbying with khaps and other social, political forces to ensure pressure is put on the state government and the Maruti Suzuki management.It’s also clear that the agitating workers are feeling let down by the lack of support for their cause. “Mainstream parties from the state and the nation have not even issued any statement on the issue. The chief minister of the state is continuously defending the Maruti management and blaming the workers. It seems that the representatives are sold out. Instead of ensuring fair and accountable governance in the state and implementation of labour rights, they are blaming the victims of the capitalism,” says Huda.

Even those who have managed to find jobs are not finding it easy to adjust to the fear around their past. Another worker Sanjay (name changed)—who was a contract worker in the Manesar plant and has no charges against him in this case—now works for a manufacturing unit in Gurgaon. “It was my first job at Maruti but I can’t tell anyone about it. If I had done so, it would have been impossible to get this job. I don’t want my new company to harass me, managers to distrust me and police to embarrass me without any reason,” says Sanjay, adding that “my present job is my first job now”. Not everyone among the 2,100 contract and apprentice workers is as lucky as Sanjay—many of them are still struggling to find jobs. The ones who have managed to do so are working for less than the minimum wages for unskilled labour.

The workers in jail have filed two counter cases against 17 Maruti Suzuki officials. The complaint by Jiyalal is pending in the court—if cleared, it might send some Maruti officials to jail under laws against inflicting atrocities upon SC/STs. In the first round of talks between workers and the management, Maruti officials insisted that workers should take back their counter complaints. In return, the workers asked the management to take them back, get innocent workers released and enforce a fair enquiry into the case. Both sides say that talks were “productive”—but it is starkly evident who is in control in this battle of unequals.

 

Jan Sahas released 52 Bonded Labourers from brick kiln industry including children and women


jan

 

 

Evidences of prevalence of the illegal practice of bonded labour were observed some days ago in Morena district of Madhya Pradesh, where 52 labourers from Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh were working as bonded labourers including children and women. They were freed on February 22 and 23, 2013 by the Jan Sahas under the “The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976”. Thereafter, they were given “released certificate” and immediate relief amount and the process of their rehabilitation in Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh has begun. These workers were being used as bonded labourers by the brick manufacturers of Morena, Madhya Pradesh.

Six workers of Chhattisgarh ran away in January after being exploited by two brick manufacturers of Jalalpur village (Thana Jaura) of Morena called Rinku Tyagi and Mahavir Tyagi. Family members of workers filed a police complaint against this in their village Barbhatha which comes in the district of Jaanjgeer. The Superintendent of Police (SP) of Jaanjgeer informed Morena police about this matter on January 19, 2013 but no action was taken against the culprits. When Jan Sahas was informed about this, it’s activist of Centre Social Justice and Equality and Bonded Labour Liberation Campaign raided the work place along with the police and liberated 22 workers. 22 more workers were freed the next day by raiding one more place nearby, while 8 labourers got freedom the other day.

The liberated workers belong to Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. After talking to them, we came to know that labourers were sold to Rinku Tyagi and Mahavir Tyagi in October 2012 by a contractor called Daataram in three lakh rupees.

These labourers told us that they had to work from 6 o’clock in the morning till 9 o’clock in the evening and each worker was paid Rs. 400 to 500 in 15 days to month. Many a times they had to work empty stomach, while they were beaten and threatened too. Rinku Tyagi kept an eye on the labourers and they were kept under vigilance even at night. Women bonded labourers were in a pitiable condition and they were not left alone even for using toilets. They were not allowed to go to market while their children were also forced to work. These labourers were enduring this inhuman behavior for the past 4-5 months.

We got these workers liberated and gave “released certificate” through the district administration including immediate relief amount. These workers have now moved to their villages in Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh where we are trying for their rehabilitation with the help of local organizations. Dialogue with the local administration is also being made.

Times of India: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-02-24/bhopal/37269558_1_labourers-brick-kiln-joura

 

From homemaker to labour leader


Published: February 14, 2012

Party’s first female worker talks about throwing off her burqa, taking to streets.

LAHORE: “Take off your burqa (veil) and accompany me in the hunger strike tomorrow.” Those were the words with which Shamim Qayyum 

was invited by her husband, Mian Qayyum, to join the Labour Qaumi Movement (LQM) in a hunger strike in Faisalabad in 2005.

Shamim, speaking at Café Bol on Monday about organising women workers, said she had previously never imagined leaving the house.

“I was a home-maker. All I knew was that things were not going well for the labourers and that my husband was planning a hunger strike,” she told the audience.

On the third day of the strike, she recalled, her husband asked her and her three children to join him. She said she was the only woman in the strike that day. Other women and children joined the strike later. “It raised my spirits to see women coming out of their houses and supporting their men in the cause.”

After a nine-day strike, Shamim said the labourers were called in for negotiations, which were successful. She said during those nine days, a rally was led by Dr Farzana Bari, but with growing concerns of the labourers, she said, another rally had to be organised, this time led by her. Formed in 2003, the Labour Qaumi Movement aims at addressing the issues of labourers, especially those working in the power looms of Faisalabad.

Previously, Shamim’s husband, Mian Qayyum also delivered a talk about the role of women in the Labour Qaumi Movement at Cafe Bol.

Shamim said she was thankful to her husband for his support.  “It just didn’t change my life, it changed the lives of several women I would go out and talk to,” she said while talking about her decision to take off the burqa. She said at first it was difficult to convince women to stand up for their rights. However, with time these women realised that it was for their own benefit, she added.

The current energy crisis, she said, had increased the number of home-based workers. Shamim said there was a dire need to address the difficult conditions the majority of these home-based workers were working in.

She told the audience about an incident where four workers were illegally detained by the Faisalabad police and how she mobilised women workers to rally towards the police station in protest.

“On the fourth day of their detention, the workers were released,” she said. She said despite having similar skills, women labourers in the textile power loom sector were given less wages than men. She said she had organised a strike in which women refused to work at the looms unless they were paid an equal wage. Within days of the strike, she said, their demands were met.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2012.

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