| Ram Kali narrates her story in New Delhi. Picture by Rajesh Kumar
New Delhi, Feb. 12: Ram Kali travelled hundreds of kilometres for a living from Chhattisgarh to Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh, hoping she would earn enough to repay the Rs 8,000 she borrowed from a moneylender for the treatment of her two-month-old son.
The illiterate 40-year-old could not save her child and the journey to greener pastures last year ended in slavery.
Ram Kali got work as a labourer in a Moradabad brick kiln for a paltry Rs 100 and 8 kg of rice a week that was to be shared among a family of four.
They were beaten up and threatened if they dared raise their voices.
Ram Kali’s story is echoed by 69 others rescued with her yesterday from the brick kiln by a non-governmental organisation, Bachpan Bachao Andolan.
Seventy members of 30 families were lured by middlemen Chandan and Fardeen Sai with the promise of good wages and proper working conditions.
They were handed over to Mazid, a brick-kiln owner with close links to city police and politicians, who ran the unit at Tigri village in Sambhal tehsil.
The NGO’s general secretary, R.S. Chaurasia, said they raided the brick kiln yesterday with the help of the local police after learning that some labourers had been taken into bondage. All the labourers were rescued. The police have prosecuted Mazid under the Child Labour Act of 1986 and SC/ST Act of 1989, Chaurasia added.
Jogender, 11, who was among the rescued labourers brought to Delhi today, said he was forced to make bricks the whole day without remuneration.
“One day I made a mistake and for that, they assaulted my father Puran Lal,” he said. To save his life, Puran Lal fled with his wife, leaving behind three children, who were then taken care of by others.
Another labourer, Guddu, also fled, leaving behind his children, according to wife Urmilla.
Chaurasia said each labourer was told to mould 1,500 bricks every day in return for a promise of Rs 100 and 8 kg rice, way below the minimum wages of Rs 200.
The payments made to them and the money spent on medicines were registered as debt, claimed Kailash Satyarthi of the NGO. The brick kiln owners fooled the uneducated labourers into believing that their debt was piling up and kept them enslaved.
Rescued bonded labourers are entitled to remuneration from the social welfare ministry and income-earning assets worth Rs 20,000, such as a plot of land that can be tilled, the NGO said.
However, because of corruption, not many labourers get any benefit from the government’s financial package, Satyarthi added.
Many labourers, including children, are languishing in bondage. However, the Union and state governments have not made any serious effort to check this menace, he alleged.