Forty-five labourers from the Mandla district, including women, sold to a contractor for 4.5 lakh in Maharashtra, where, upon refusing to be paid less than the agreed wage, they were confined, beaten up and threatened to fear for their lives, have returned home with the polices aid.
We are investigating the matter and the police have registered a complaint, said District Collector Jagdish Chandra Jatiya. Prime facie, it doesnt appear to be a case of bonded labour, as they were taken from one place to another for work, and not bound to one place.
No complaint filed
However, R. R. S. Parihar, District Superintendent of Police, claimed the group, for unknown reasons, had not filed a complaint with the police, and no case had been registered so far. They came back on a train. We asked them to file a complaint with the Government Railway Police when they alleged they were being threatened, but they didnt. They didnt even approach us after returning.
The labourers, residents of the Surehali village in the district, were promised 400-500 a day for sugarcane harvest in Kolhapur district in Maharashtra by a contractor, said Neeraj Markam, Zilla Panchayat member.
On reaching there, they were sold to another contractor and told to work on per tonne basis instead. They felt betrayed, as this meant not more than 50 [as wages] a day. Still, they worked for one-and-a-half months, he said.
Their 12 mobile phones, cash and ATM cards were snatched away, he said. One time, a few of them even escaped into the forest, but were caught within a 45 km radius and brought back, and made to work.
One of them, who managed to keep a mobile phone, called his family, who informed the police in Mandla district. On being questioned, the second contractor told the Kolhapur Police he had paid 17 lakh in total to buy such groups from the agent from Mandla, including 4.5 lakh for this group, claimed Mr. Markam.
Four of us were beaten up with sticks when we were caught attempting to escape, said Golu Maravi, one of the labourers. They said they had bought us, had a right over us, and if we acted smart, they would cut our limbs and make us beg on the streets.
To let them free, the contractor in Maharashtra asked for 20,000 as recovery amount from their living expenses. If the original agreement was complied with, they would have made lakhs in total. But they didnt even have enough to buy food, so women had to sell jewellery to pay the amount, said Mr. Markam.