14 victims of bonded labour and trafficking rescued from ginger farm in Bylekuppe

Bengaluru, 10th Sept, 2018: 14 bonded labourers were rescued from a ginger farm in 10th Camp, Tibetan colony Bylekuppe, Periyapatna Taluk, Mysore District by the District Administration and the Bylekuppe Police. Tahsildar Mahesh J of Periyapatna Taluk led the rescue team while the Assistant Commissioner, K Nitish, IAS, Hunsur Sub-Division, Mysore District personally conducted a detailed enquiry with the survivors on 8th Sept and declared them to be bonded labourers.

On 11th Sept all the labourers will be issued Release Certificates by the District Administration declaring them to be free and absolving them from any agreement with the owner of the farm. They will also be given an initial rehabilitation amount of Rs 20,000 each as per the Central Sector Scheme for Rehabilitation of Bonded Labourer – 2016.  

The owner of the farm was arrested from the spot during the rescue operation and on 8th September an FIR was registered at the Bylekuppe Police station under IPC 370 (Trafficking of

Persons) and sections 16,17 & 18 of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976 among other sections of the IPC. On 8th Sept, the owner was remanded to judicial custody for two weeks. The owner’s brother who also ran the farm and his brother-in-law who trafficked the labourers are co-accused in the case and the Police are on the lookout for them.

All 14 bonded labourers rescued were adult males between the ages of 28 and 60 years while the majority of them are in their thirties. Seven of them were working at the farm for five months while the others worked for three months. The labourers, hailing from Gadag, Davanagere, Dharwad, Haveri, Mandya, Lingsur and Nelamangala had all come to Hubli in search of employment. It was here that the owner’s brother-in-law “recruited” the labourers, deceiving them with false promises, and trafficked them to the farm.

The owner’s brother-in-law told the labourers that they only need to work for eight hours a day, they will receive wages of Rs 350 a day, a house to live in, three good meals and alcohol every night. They were also told that they can work for 15 days and they will then get paid and they can then decide if they want to continue working or return. However all these promises turned out to be false and the labourers were not allowed to ever leave the farm unsupervised and they were not paid any wages whatsoever.

The labourers had to work seven days a week from 6 am to 7 pm planting and harvesting ginger among other tasks like weeding, spraying pesticide, applying fertilizers etc. They were only given short breaks for meals which one among them cooked. The owner only provided them with provisions for rice and sambar for all three meals every day. The labourers were not paid any wages at all and not allowed to go outside the farm. They were constantly monitored by the owner, his brother or brother-in-law. At night they all slept in one room on the floor while the owner slept nearby on a cot.

The labourers were severely beaten frequently and abused by the owners especially if they asked for their wages or requested to leave the farm. Several of the labourers had injury marks on their bodies and they recounted how they were beaten with motorcycle chains and sticks. The only time they were taken outside the farm was when there was less work and the owner took them to nearby farms for work. The labourers said that the owner was paid for their labour by the other farm owner but none of this money was passed on to them.

A 38 year old rescued labourer says, “I left my wife and two year old child in a rented house in Gadag five months ago with only Rs 2,000 and came here hoping I’ll be able to earn well and send them money regularly. I have not been able to talk to them even once in the last five months and don’t know what’s happened to them. I have told the owner many times to pay me my wages and let me go, but I was beaten with chains and sticks and told to keep working for a few more months before getting paid. I’m very grateful to the government who came like God and rescued us from the farm.”

The labourers also complained that they were not allowed to go out to vote during the recent state elections. They could not even keep in touch with their families because the owner never let them use his phone even upon repeated requests. When some of them fell ill they were never allowed to rest but were only given a few tablets and told to keep working. Twelve other labourers had also escaped from the farm over the last five months. One of them was caught at Periyapatna by the owner, brought back and severely beaten. This labourer has also been rescued now.    

This case first came to light through one of the labourers, who holds a B.Com degree, who had escaped two months ago from the farm. After returning to Gadag, he searched for one of the labourers’ brother tirelessly and finally located him and let him know about their plight at the farm. The brother and escaped labourer then contacted local community leaders who then informed a DYSP, Mahadev T from the Lokayukta, Bengaluru, since he was known to them.

The DYSP immediately recognised the case as being that of bonded labour and trafficking since he was trained on the same at the Karnataka Police Academy (KPA), Mysuru. His prompt action and the subsequent quick response by the Bylekuppe Police and District Administration resulted in the rescue of these labourers and arrest of the owner from the farm. The escaped labourer will also be given a Release Certificate and initial rehabilitation compensation of Rs 20,000 by the District Administration.

On 11th Sept, the labourers will be repatriated to their respective homes by the District Administration and the Bylekuppe Police. All the labourers are entitled to a further compensation of Rs 80,000 each upon conviction of the employer or trafficker. Trafficking labourers, and exploiting them are serious crimes with a minimum sentence of 10 years (for trafficking more than one labourer) and a maximum sentence of up to life in prison under IPC 370 (Trafficking of Persons). Further, the maximum sentence under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976 is three years imprisonment.

International Justice Mission (IJM) is a non-profit organisation that partners with local, state and national governments and grassroots organisations to protect the poor from violent forms of injustice such as bonded labour. Since 2001, IJM offices in India have assisted state and local government officials in the release and rehabilitation of over 15,000 victims trapped in the bonded labour system.  Our contract lawyers and social workers partner with the local District Administration, Police and Public prosecutors across states to ensure victim rescue, rehabilitation, and  prosecution of perpetrators, and to help develop a thriving public justice system that delivers justice for all victims of violent oppression including among the poor. 

Bonded labour is a severe form of exploitation abolished by the Bonded Labour Abolition Act (BLA) in 1976. A Bonded Labour System is a system of labour where a person forfeits his rights and freedoms because of a debt or other obligation. In most cases, advance is used as a bait to trap labourers into bonded labour circumstances where the labourer is forced to continue to labour under severe restrictions of movement, employment and most often is paid less than the minimum wage. Under the Act and judgments of the honourable Supreme Court, there is no need to prove physical restriction for labourer to be bonded. A bonded labourer can be a man, woman or child.  Victims of bonded labour are subject to oppression, abuse, and are denied basic human dignity and rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution. Proactive intervention on bonded labour cases demonstrates commitment to prioritizing and eradicating bonded labour crime from the nation.

Human trafficking is defined in Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code, updated in the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 2013. Someone is a trafficker if they recruit, transport, harbour, transfer, or receive one or more people using threats, coercion, abduction, deception, fraud, abuse of power, or inducement and that person or persons is exploited. Most cases of bonded labour are additionally cases of trafficking due to the use of threats, coercion, deception, and/or inducement in first initiating the relationship and then exploiting the workers by restricting their freedoms and paying meagre wages.  Trafficking is a non-bailable, cognizable offense. In some cases with multiple victims of trafficking, the sentence can be up to life in prison   

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