They were presumed “dead” for four years in official records. But on Thursday, they came to the district collector’s office in Bargarh and tried to immolate themselves.
About 150 “rescued” bonded labourers — most of them above the age of 70 — from Jharbandh block of the district came to the collector’s office with kerosene jars and firewood, prepared pyres and threatened to immolate themselves. They were protesting being declared dead and not being given any rehabilitation package after being “rescued” in 1981-82.
Bargarh ADM Meghnath Nayak rushed to the spot to stop them. They finally relented after he assured them that an enquiry would be held and they would be given a proper rehabilitation package.
According to reports, in 1981-82, the district administration had identified about 1,200 bonded labourers in 10 villages in Jharbandh block. The state government rehabilitated 480 of them the next year. The others were also assured of a good rehabilitation package “soon”. A decade passed but nothing happened.
In 2004, the administration commissioned an NGO, BISWA, to undertake another survey on bonded labourers in the district. The survey said there was no bonded labourer in the district. “The survey also said 720 of the labourers had died, which was completely false. Those who have assembled here have been recorded as dead in the survey,” said Daulatram Tandy, member of the vigilance committee of bonded labourers, who led the protesters to the collector’s office. Nayak said it was a serious matter and a proper enquiry had been ordered.