The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bonded boys flee heartland landlord

Malda, Dec. 9: Like cattle, they were herded into a room, thrashed and held captive for four days, with scraps thrown in for meals twice a day.

Bhakta Mondal, a teenager from Sattari, still have the flashbacks, days after he and his four friends from the Malda village slipped from the clutches of a landlord in Uttar Pradesh, who had “bought” them.

“We still cannot get over it,” Mondal said, taking off his shirt to show the welts on his back from the beating. “It was a nightmare.”

The five boys, between 13 and 17, filed a complaint with the Englishbazar police station yesterday against a middleman who had taken them to Uttar Pradesh on November 25, promising jobs in sugar mills.

Mondal said he had no idea what had “happened to” the five other village boys who had gone with them on the same train to Uttar Pradesh. He said they were taken together to the landlord’s house in a village near Kanpur.

“But the next day all five of them were taken away to an undisclosed place. We have no idea where they are.”

A senior police officer said the middleman, identified as Pratap Singh, is absconding. “We are planning to send a team to Uttar Pradesh to track down the other five children, the middleman and the landlords.”

Radhanath Chowdhury, father of Mithun, who is among the five boys not traceable yet, said Singh, known to a villager, had offered to get the teenagers jobs in sugar mills in the heartland. “We had not suspected anything since he used to come to our village quite often.”

The parents were happy when they were told their children would get free food and housing at the sugar mills and would be able to send money home.

When the teenagers boarded the Delhi-bound Farakka Express on November 27, Shyamal Chowdhury, an escapee, said they were looking forward to a “great time” ahead. The 10 boys were hustled into a bus after they got off at Kanpur station.

“The bus dropped us at a village, but we don’t know its name. All 10 of us were straight taken to the house of the landlord,” Mondal said. They were all put up in a dingy outhouse for the night. The next day, Singh left with the five boys for the undisclosed destination.

Hardly had Singh left, the landlord — a hefty, moustachioed man — emerged from his house, ordering the five boys out. “He told some of us to take the cattle out for grazing, while the others were ordered to wash the dishes in the yard,” Chowdhury said.

When the boys refused, the landlord — whose name they could not say — beat them up. “He even kicked some of us hard, while abusing us in filthy language,” Chowdhury said.

Mondal said when they told the man they had come to work for sugar mills, the man guffawed and “told us to do what was told since he had ‘bought’ us from Pratap Singh”.

He said the landlord and his men locked them in a room and beat them up mercilessly after they refused to do the odd jobs.

“We were given the leftovers to eat and were let out only to go to the toilet,” Mondal said. They were “released” after four days when they promised to “behave themselves.”

On Friday, when no one was around, the boys slipped out of the house, took a bus to Kanpur and then boarded a train to Malda. “We were caught by the ticket but he let us travel when we told him our story,” Mondal said.

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