Thirty-three people, including 10 children, who were allegedly forced into bonded labour at a brick kiln in Bathula village of the district, were on Thursday rescued by social activists and volunteers of the union ministry of labour, New Delhi.
The labourers, belonging to seven families, hail from Chhattisgarh. The rescue operation was carried out with the assistance of the local administration which, at the time of filing of the report, was making arrangements for the labourers' return to their native place.
The activists said they had been alerted that a large number of labourers from Chhattisgarh worked in deplorable conditions at the SBI brick kiln for the past about three years and were not being allowed to go home by the owner, Ram Kumar.
"We were informed that the employer was violating labour laws. He was neither allowing freedom of movement to labourers nor giving them due wages. They had been brought here by a middleman who also ended up as bonded labour as the kiln owner did not pay him his dues," said Anu, one of the activists. "We contacted the deputy commissioner, who provided us due support to rescue the victims," she said.
Tehsildar Amardeep Thind, who accompanied the rescue team to the site, said the brick-kiln owner was not present at the time of the raid. "No resistance was offered by his employee either. We packed the labourers on tractor trolleys of the kiln owner and brought them to the tehsil, where they were served food," he added.
Ram Kumar, Krishan, Gajju, Narhari, Sohan and Deepak, heads of the rescued families, alleged that they were made to work for long hours but not paid even the minimum wages. They said they wanted to go back to their home state, but the kiln owner would not allow it. "If someone needed to go home due to the death of a family member, he was asked to leave his family as hostage behind," said one of the labourers. All of them said they were happy to be free and would never return to Punjab.
The brick-kiln owner could not be contacted.