Bonded Labourers of Sarai walk tall, Wait for Emancipation

Nirmal documents the life in Sarai Village, in Varanasi district, which is now free of bonded labourers, due to the pro-active measures of PVCHR. During his recent visit, he found that they still have miles to walk. Though they walk tall, they are waiting for emancipation. A special report on bonded labour as part of the Different Truths and PVCHR joint initiative for eradicating this menace.

Bonded labour is one of the biggest socio-economic problems that plague Third World countries, in general, and India, in particular. It is being practiced in this society since ancient times and unfortunately, it still continues in various forms. Under the bonded labour system, a person is given no or nominal amount in return for his/her labour. People, who don’t have land, education and proper economic status are forced to be bonded labours.

Organs and causes of bonded labour:

  • Caste based discrimination
  • Vast poverty and inequality
  • Inadequate education system
  • Unjust social relations
  • Governments’ (state and centre) unwillingness to step in

I am talking about a village, which is a bonded labour free village, now. The village name called Sarai, which lies in Prinda block, Varanasi district. It is three kilometers off the highway. It has 26 households with around 200 people. They all are from Musahar community. When we entered the village, we saw homes with electricity, with the solar panel as well as water hand pumps. There is a primary school with proper facilities.

About eight years ago, people of Sarai used to work in the brick factory as bonded labor. They don’t have other job options. They worked hard in the factory but never got their wages in time. They never received full payment for the work. The owners of the factories forcefully engaged them in brick making work. They faced caste-based discrimination and were in penury.

They were voiceless. Suffered silently. They were afraid to talk with unknown persons. They were scared by police excesses and possible brutality. If there was any criminal case nearby, the police detained, arrested and tortured the Musahars. They didn’t have a proper home for live, they didn’t have a ration card, voter ID card or any other IDs.

PVCHR and Dignity Initiative adopted Sarai, as a torture-free model village, in 2010. PVCHR conducted several meetings for awakening them and lobbied for their problems.

Musahars found their voice. They had been walking tall. They started talking about their problems. They came to know about their rights and started demanding basic necessities with the government. These days they have proper home, all household things, ration card and voter ID card. Children’s also started to go to school.

I recently visited that village. I felt there were many more pressing issues. They have a home but they don’t have any regular resources for daily survival, due to which they are again heading to work in the brick factory. They are empowered to talk with the owner of the factory, negotiate hard for their timely wages, but they want an alternative job.

Well, education, local awareness, and empowerment are needed to uplift their lifestyle, along with this, the center and state governments should also implement different plans and policies, and play a vital role in uplifting their lives. But, the political will is sadly missing.

Freedom is not the only big issue for them, now. They have to fend for their lives. At first, they faced the problems of dwellings. But, nowadays they are facing food crisis and are struggling to have two square meals a day. The government should implement the laws that stop bonded labor.

For this, the government should provide farming training, and help them develop kitchen gardens. As they are still not very sensitive on sanitation issues, the government should plan and implement awareness drives. India is emerging as one of the top world economies. To achieve this, we need to ensure social harmony too.

We all want to live in peace and dignity. Let’s bring smiles on the faces of the hapless Musahars. Let’s stand firm and resolute, united in our mission to eradicate new forms of slavery from India.

Pix sourced from author.

Nirmal Kumar Paudel

Nirmal Kumar Paudel

Nirmal Kumar Paudel has more than five years experience as a human rights activist in Nepal. He is currently working with Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC) as a facilitator. He has worked in various areas including current affairs, health, food and educational rights, peace building, local development, good governance youth and other related issues. He completed his post-graduation in Sociology.As a FK Fellow he is in India working with PVCHR Vanarasi.
Nirmal Kumar Paudel

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