The Andhra Pradesh High Court sets compensation at more than US$ 28,000 for two men from Odisha who wanted to improve their lot. The "informal" nature of migrant labour favours exploitation and employers.
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Two workers had their right hand chopped off after they refused to work at a brick kiln for Rs.14,000 (US$ 195) paid in advance.
The two men were part of a group of 12 who refused to work when they found out that the labour contractor wanted them to work at a brick kiln in a different place than they had agreed to.
Whilst ten escaped, the two victims – Nilambara Dhangda Majhi and Pialu Dhangada Majhi – had their hand chopped off by the angry contractor and his henchmen.
Lenin Raghuvanshi, Dalit activist and executive director of the Peoples' Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) in Varanasi, spoke to AsiaNews about the case.
The latter dates back to December 2013. Yesterday, "the Andhra Pradesh High Court ruled that they (the victims) are entitled to compensation,” a satisfied Raghuvanshi said. “They will be rewarded two million rupees (US$ 28,000), a huge sum for two poor workers."
According to the activist, the story of the two workers "is a serious and heinous human rights violation of the most marginalised people and of migrant workers".
At the time of the attack, Nilambara and Pialu were 35 and 30 years old respectively. Both came from the Kalahandi district in Odisha (Orissa). They had accepted a job in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh to improve their lot. However, the labour contractor, Parbesh Parmedundi, took them to Raipur, Chhattisgarh.
Upon learning of the change, the workers refused. Ten workers managed to flee, Nilambara and Pialu did not. On the trip home to recover the advance money, Parbesh and his henchmen got drunk, lost control, and chopped off the victims’ right hand.
Right after the incident, Raghuvanshi took up the case and filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission, which was closed in 2016 when the case went to trial before the Andhra Pradesh High Court following police filing a case against the contractor and his accomplices. The latter were eventually released on bail but their trial is still ongoing.
"We demand the strict implementation of the Labour Bonded Act, the Interstate Migration Act and a speedy investigation,” said the activist, who added that “the government should advocate the case in court on behalf of the survivors.”
"Slavery was an established institution in ancient India,” Raghuvanshi explained. It “was abolished in the possessions of the East India Company by the Indian Slavery Act, 1843."
At present, modern slavery is “an umbrella term which refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and abuse of power.”
It includes “debt bondage, where a person is forced to work for free to pay off a debt; child slavery, forced marriage, domestic servitude and forced labour; where victims are made to work through violence and intimidation.”
India’s agricultural sector employs 62.7 per cent of the rural population. However, “changing environmental patterns in the eastern state of Odisha, such as irregular rainfall, frequent droughts, and deforestation, have resulted in the destruction of traditional livelihoods.”
For the PVCHR director, “The lack of employment opportunities and the need to seek alternative sources of income force people to migrate to other states within India in search of work.”
“Seeking work in brick kilns across the country has become a common phenomenon,” he noted. In fact, “It is reported that in certain brick kilns accepting a wage advance from a contractor, who acts as an intermediary between the kiln owner and the worker, is seen as a mandatory step to accepting a job”.
Debts and the "informal" nature of the work mean that, “With no records or contracts maintained, there is no accountability to hold employers responsible for any exploitation, making informal workers highly vulnerable to exploitative practices.”
In the end, “Indian migrant workers, who move seasonally from rural villages to the cities in search of work opportunities, have limited access to support and redress in cases of exploitation”. (A.C.F.)