16 bonded labourers, including pregnant women & children, rescued in Srinagar
Bonded labour, a kind of modern slavery, is still prevalent in India today despite several legal interventions like the Bonded Labour System Act, 1976 which seeks to abolish debt bondage or bonded labour altogether. This article aims to bring to the fore the plight of such labourers, who are bound in invisible chains to this day. Sixteen labourers were lured by an agent to leave their respective native places and come to the state of Jammu and Kashmir with the promise that they will be paid handsome wages for the sale of their labour in that state. Amongst the labourers were women and children – the oldest aged 35 years and the youngest aged 13-14 years. The labourers were brought into the state of Jammu and Kashmir in the month of March, 2018. The agent handed the labourers over to the owner of the POP factory situated in Khanmoh in Srinagar, where they were expected to render their services. The nature of the work to be carried out by the labourers was hazardous. The dust emanating from the limestone was precarious and unsafe for the health of the labourers as they were exposed to it throughout the day. Despite the hazardous nature of work involved, the labourers were not provided with any safety equipment such as masks, helmets etc as mandated by the Factories Act, 1948. Moreover, the labourers were forced to work for 10-12 hours a day continuously from dawn to dusk and if they refused to work at a stretch, they were beaten up mercilessly by the agent. The labourers allegedly were made to work and live in dismal and inhumane conditions due to which some of them fell sick but were still coerced into working at the factory in poor health. The labourers were not paid the promised wages for their labour for a period of 3 months. In addition to this, the movements of the labourers were indirectly restricted by the factory owner and agent due to two main reasons namely non-payment of wages for 3 months and the location of the factory (located at the outskirts). On 9th May, 2018 – NCCABL AND HRLN Srinagar filed a complaint against the owner and the agent before the District Magistrate (deputy commissioner), Srinagar in this regard. The owner contended that he had already paid the wages in advance to the agent but the agent had failed to pay a single penny to the labourers. According to the owner, the agent had brought the labourers, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, on his own expense. The complaint was entertained and a team was constituted by the District Magistrate. The team comprised of ADM and SHO Police Station, Pantha Chowk. A raid of the factory premises was conducted by the team wherein several minor children were seen engaged in hazardous labour at the factory. Some women carrying babies were also seen working in such conditions at the time of the raid. After the factory was raided and sealed by the authorities, the owner paid the wages due to the labourers and received a receipt from them for the same but according to the labourers; they were not paid the wages due to them in totality. All the labourers were rescued and sent back to their native places and were given bus tickets till Jammu. Currently, the case is still pending before ADM Srinagar.