The rescued villagers at Birsa Munda Football Stadium in Ranchi on Thursday. Picture by Prashant Mitra
Ranchi, Oct. 4: If the state mandarins expected thanks from the 448 tribals, over half of them women, for rescuing them from traffickers last night, they couldn’t have been more wrong.
At Birsa Munda Football Stadium at Ranchi’s Morabadi, the villagers began to complain loudly once they were told they would be herded in buses back home. They said, quite openly, that they were hemmed in by rebel terror and government interference, depriving them of jobs either in their own villages or cities elsewhere.
The tribals were stopped at Ranchi station and a Piska bus stand in an operation that lasted from 8.30pm to 11pm. Three alleged traffickers have been detained at Chutia police station for questioning.
Of the 448, 212 were from Lohardaga, 48 from Latehar, 93 from Gumla and 68 Ranchi. In lesser numbers were people from Khunti, Hazaribagh, Simdega and Ramgarh — two, four, nine and 12, respectively.
They were promised plum jobs in Assam and Tripura, places they had never heard of. They were not registered with the labour department, which meant that if anything went wrong, the state would have had a tougher time tracing them.
Worst, they could not name their agents.
District authorities presented these weighty arguments to justify the rescue. But while officials patted each other for doing a great job of stopping hundreds from being trafficked, the rescued rained curses on the babus for stopping them from earning their bread.
“Who gave the district administration the right to stop us from going outside the state to feed ourselves? We wanted to escape our village, a living hell thanks to rebels and failed state welfare schemes. Now what? Neither can we stay peacefully in villages nor go outside to earn,” said Sanjo Minz, in her twenties, a toddler in her arms.
A resident of Chanho village around 45km from Ranchi district headquarters, Sanjo was convinced that her promised job in Assam at a brick kiln was her and her son’s passport to a better life.
Raghunath Munda of Religarha village in Hazaribagh, promised a job at a Tripura tea garden, was stopped from leaving, wife Somari and son Manya in tow. “My seven-year-old son is mute. I decided to migrate to earn and save money for his treatment, but the administration stopped us. Back home there’s nothing. Choose between Maoists and corrupt government officials,” he said flatly.
Sanjo, Raghunath and others like them are intelligent enough to realise they have two choices — the devil and the deep sea.
But this very lack of choices makes them vulnerable to sexual and economic predators, for which government officials deem it necessary to stop their dreams of upward mobility and shepherd them back to the comparative safety of villages, hunger and hopelessness be damned.
Subdivisional magistrate (Ranchi sadar) Amit Kumar had no second thoughts about the rescue operation. “We did a nice job after getting tipped off by some NGOs. Those rescued were not registered with the labour department and knew nothing about the agents. We took them to Birsa Munda Football Stadium, gave them water and food. This morning, they were sent to their respective homes on buses. District administrations concerned have been kept informed,” he said.
Devi Dayal Munda, the secretary of an NGO working to stop tribal migration, seconded Kumar. “Tribals are innocent and don’t know the dangers lurking outside. Leaving home without security is no solution.”
State labour commissioner Sunil Kumar Burnwal said a villager who wanted to work outside had to register with the panchayat, which would in turn issue the person a card and a number.
“You can’t just leave. Initially, registration was done at respective DC offices. From July, panchayats have been empowered for the job. Agents also need to be registered with the panchayat,” said Burnwal.
Admitting the triggers for migration, he added that the state government would focus on generating more rural jobs through the flagship Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.
Easier said than done.