Nilachala Bag, a landless farm labourer of Bhalukunda village in Odisha’s Balangir district, was looking forward to a better life when he received an advance of Rs. 18,000 from a middleman to work in a brick kiln in Andhra Pradesh (AP). But he had no idea what was in store for him and his family.
The moment his wife Damayanti, 30, their three children and Bag arrived at the brick kiln in the Nellore district of AP, torture and exploitation became part of their lives. The nine months he worked there — October 2011 to June 2012 — meant back-breaking work for more than 19 hours a day. “We just got two one-hour breaks for breakfast and lunch and four hours of sleep,” Bag said. Even his two sons, aged seven and five, were made to bake raw bricks in the sun.
The kiln owner paid them Rs. 300 a week, which was much less than what had been promised, and kept them in small, cramped enclosures along with more than 50 other labourers from Odisha. “It was complete hell. If we complained about payment, longer working hours and insufficient food, we were beaten up,” he said.
The kiln owner’s henchmen guarded them round the clock and escape was impossible. In March 2012, a son of one of the labourers was found dead. Frightened, all the labourers tried to flee, but were stopped by the kiln owner. There were no means to contact people back home. Luckily for them, some newspapers in AP reported about the death and a social activist from Balangir, Dayasagar Pradhan, went to Nellore to investigate. “The local administration of Nellore rescued the labourers after we contacted them,” said Pradhan, who works for Aide et Action, an NGO.
The AP government certified Bag and his wife as bonded labourers and sent the family back to Balangir. Nilachala plans to migrate again as his state government has failed to rehabilitate him as per the Bonded Labour Act 1976. “I have no other option as I have no work to feed my family,” he said.