Data Indicates High Prevalence of Bonded Labor in Tamil Nadu

[Representative Photo | Image credit : www.terredeshommes.nl]

Six children, including 15 persons belonging to three families employed in a rice mill as bonded labourers were rescued recently by the authorities of the Revenue department in Vellore.

According to the Sub Collector K Megaraj, “Based on a tip-off that three families from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh were forced into slavery, the Vellore revenue officials and the local police conducted a surprise inspection on a rice mill in Marthandakuppam for rescuing the families.  Each family had received an advance of Rs. 50,000 from the owner four years ago, paid each family a menial wage of Rs. 300 a month. They were exploited day and night in the mill.” According to the Deccan Chronicle, the labourers

Their movement was restricted. The labourers were not allowed to leave the facility during family functions and festivals. They were not allowed to go to the hospital when they were sick. The labourers reported verbal and physical abuse at the worksite,” said a source.

Once the rescued bonded labourers get their Release Certificates at the Revenue Divisional Office, they will be sent back to their home and will be provided with Assistance by the revenue officials on rehabilitation and getting other important necessities like Aadhar card, ration card, etc.

Despite being outlawed four decades ago, through the Bonded Labour System Act, 1976, thousands of bonded labourers continue to suffer at rice mills, brick kilns, textile companies, factories, yarn industries and fields, trying to pay back debts with their unreasonably meagre pay.

The Bonded Labour System Act 1976 states measures for the prohibition of human trafficking and forced labour and intends to free all bonded labourers, cancel their debts, rehabilitate the victim, and punish the offender.

However, a survey, conducted by the International Justice Mission (IJM) and National Adivasi Solidarity Council (NASC) in 2015, suggests that over four lakh bonded labourers work in 11 industries across 31 districts in Tamil Nadu. The survey has also found that 60.8% of them were paid below minimum wages. The survey was not conducted in Chennai. According to a report by the Planning Commission in 2010, Arunachal Pradesh is the state where 0.32% of its population was working as a bonded labourer. The states where more than 0.01% of their total population was working as bonded labourer are Orissa, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

IJM and NASC in their report noted that “at 132 worksites, enumerators documented violence, physical, psychological, or verbal, and also whether labourers were forced to work.”

The laborers get trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and hopelessness as they have no exposure to the education of human rights and remain unaware of their fundamental rights.

The first official survey on bonded labour was commissioned in 1995, by Felix N Sugirtharaj, former Supreme Court-appointed Commissioner for identification of bonded labour in Tamil Nadu. The study concluded that there were at least 10 lakh bonded labourers in the State. The next survey in 1997 was conducted by the Government of Tamil Nadu, which reported that the prevalence of bonded labour was only 25,005.

The government cannot significantly reduce the prevalence of bonded labour unless they first conduct a detailed survey identifying areas and industries where bonded labourers are trapped,” said  Kandasamy Krishnan, secretary-general of NASC. “The lack of coherence between the figures shows the need for a detailed study to be conducted in the State,” said Krishnan, adding that the government should equip the survivors with skill development, housing, land, entitlements and basic needs.

Among the different industries, the Textile industry, Brick Kilns, Regular Farming, and Plantations are firms that employ the largest number of bonded laborers in Tamil Nadu.

The survey conducted by IJM and NASC also noted that the prevalence of bonded labor was much higher among males (36.5%) than among females (24.8%) and its practice was more than twice higher in semi-urbanised areas than in villages.

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