Patna, Aug. 27: In December 1999, Kali Saini, 13, left his home in Darbhanga district to work in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh’s famed carpet industry.
In June 2000, two boys — Hero Kumar, 10 and Mohan Kumar, 12 — who had accompanied him from Phulwaria and Mustafanagar villages, came back with the news of his death.
The boys, who had escaped from the clutches of their employers, narrated Kali’s grisly murder and unfolded a gruesome tale of torture in the carpet industry. Kali was killed by their employer in Bhadohi’s Bhairopur village in a fit of rage when he said he could not work due to illness. “They held a lock of his hair and kept on banging his head till he began bleeding profusely and collapsed,” said Hero Kumar, a witness to the murder. Since then, both Hero and Mohan had to work under bondage.
Their trauma failed to move the state government, but they found an unlikely crusader in Independent MLA Umadhar Singh. For two years now, the dreaded Naxalite-turned-legislator has been fighting a painstaking legal battle against the children’s exploitation.
He had been championing social causes since surrendering in the early eighties. But in Kali, he found his cause celebre. Unable to stir the Bihar government agencies and police into action, Singh began filing writs in courts and sending lengthy applications relating the pathetic tales of child abuse to Governors.
He also began gathering information from the flood-affected north Bihar districts, from where poor farmers mostly send their children to work outside the state. Last year, he sent a petition to the President. “Many of these kids don’t return home. According to my estimate, there are about 1,000 children from Bihar who never returned home after being lured by the labour agents of the carpet industry,” Singh said in his petition.
The move worked as the highest office in the country forwarded his petition to the Uttar Pradesh chief secretary. The official directed police and the labour department to conduct surprise raids in the Mirzapur-Bhadohi-Allahabad belt. He then sent a reply — a copy of which was sent to Singh — saying 261 bonded labourers — mostly children from Bihar —were rescued by the Uttar Pradesh government’s social welfare department. Fifty-six cases were registered by his government against their employers, he said.
The National Human Rights Commission also shot off a notice to the Uttar Pradesh labour secretary and the district magistrate, Bhadohi, in connection with another case.
The intervention of the President’s office and the human rights commission spurred the Bihar labour department to coordinate with labour officers of other states. Labour secretary B.K. Singh said Bihar took up the rehabilitation of 125 boys this year.
Recently, 11 children, all from Darbhanga and Madhubani, were rescued from Ahmedabad. Kani, a 45-year-old woman who operated as an agent for the carpet industry in Saharsa, was arrested.
After elaborate study, Singh said agents — there is one for each district — send about 6,000 to 10,000 children from north Bihar’s flood-ravaged districts to the carpet industry in Uttar Pradesh, the diamond processing industry in Surat or the jewellery units in Maharashtra and Ahmedabad. In many cases, the agents keep the parents in the dark about the destination of the children. So they remain untraced, but the wages reach the families.
With more families — crushed between the millstones of poverty and recurring floods — sending their children outside to earn money, the scope of the employers to exploit them and even keep them in bondage is increasing. Admitting this, the state government felt a panel of officers coordinating among the states involved could help mitigate their suffering.