'3 generations of my family were bonded labourers'
Twenty-five years ago, the Supreme Court of India released 4,000 bonded labourers who lived and worked in five blocks of Raipur district. Gopal Sidar, a resident of Sukhri, a predominantly tribal village, in the Baloda Bazar district of Chhattisgarh, is one of them.india Updated: Nov 09, 2013 16:24 IST
Twenty-five years ago, the Supreme Court of India released 4,000 bonded labourers who lived and worked in five blocks of Raipur district. Gopal Sidar, a resident of Sukhri, a predominantly tribal village, in the Baloda Bazar district of Chhattisgarh, is one of them.
“Three generations of my family worked as bonded labourers at the home of a landowner to pay off the Rs. 1,000 loan my grandfather had taken from him,” said Sidar, 75. While he worked as an unpaid labourer for four years before he was released, his brother did so for 40 years. “Years of backbreaking work left him bed-ridden,” said Sidar, sitting outside his thatched home. Like other kamiyas (adult bonded labourers), Sidar’s day used to stretch from 4am to 8pm and his responsibilities were left undefined — everything from farm work to household work of all kinds had to be done by him. His wages? Two ‘tami’ (1.5 kg) of paddy once a week for his family of seven. Armed guards made escape virtually impossible. Complaining to the local authorities was pointless; they were in cahoots with the landowners.
“After their release, one of the former kamiyas, Maya Dhar Parihar, stood as a candidate in the assembly polls against his former master,” Rajendra Sail, a human rights activist, who played an important role in the release and rehabilitation of the bonded labourers, said. “He lost, but a statement had been made”.
As part of the rehabilitation package, Sidar got Rs. 6,250 and one acre of land, though the court order said each would get five. Even 25 years after the SC ruling, no family in Sidar’s 45-household Sukhri village has got the remaining four acres. “Life is tough. But at least we are free,” said Sidar.
Unfortunately, new forms of slavery are emerging in the area. Poor families are sending their young to work as ‘errand boys’ at the homes of rich landlords at nominal payments. Due to tardy implementation of the MGNREGA, delays in payments and lack of other job opportunities, people are migrating in hordes to cities for work. There have been several cases of migrant workers being held as bonded labourers. Earlier this year, the Chhattisgarh government had to send a team to Bihar to seek the release of 20 workers being held as bonded labourers in a brick kiln at Chhapra.
“We get about Rs 500 for 1,000 bricks,” said Monit Ram, 47, who goes to work in Vishakhapatnam’s brick kilns. “What can we earn in the village? The one acre I got after the release is not enough even with the state government’s liberal rice scheme,” Ram said.