Women labourers from Jharkhand face ordeal in factory


A chance encounter of two women migrant workers from Jharkhand with another labourer from their own tribe at a police station has brought to light an alleged case of bonded labour and rape in the city.

On May 5, Nicolas Murmu, a migrant labourer from Jharkhand, met two women in their late ’20s accompanied by their children at Kumbalagodu Police Station. All of them had gone to the police station to register to go home by train.

The women spoke only in Santali language. “They told me they had escaped from a factory where they were held captive and harassed. They were now living in a building under construction. They had been given shelter by a contractor. However, he was not treating them well,” Nicolas Murmu told The Hindu.

As he reached out to his friends in Jharkhand, an activist tweeted about the plight of the women. As word spread, volunteers from Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN) rescued the two women on May 22.

The women and their children – each is a mother of two – scaped from the factory in March before the lockdown. They went into hiding in the woods of Kumbalagodu scrounging and begging for food. In their statements, they said that a man, who identified himself as Asgar Ali, promised food and shelter and took them to an under-construction building.

“While we were there, the lockdown was announced. We were stuck. Asgar Ali misbehaved with me and made sexual advances,” said one of the women.

As part of the police investigation, the two women were taken to the factory. At the factory premises, one of the two women, who is 27 years old, claimed that she was raped. “We were held captive in the factory and not paid what was promised to us. So I escaped from the premises in January, only to be tracked down by the supervisor Sanjeev and forced to return. As we returned, Sanjeev beat me up and locked me up in a room. Two other men, Sanjay and Kiran, also working in the factory, raped me twice in two days, at the behest of Sanjeev,” the victim told the police, as per the complaint.

She showed them the crime scene and identified Sanjay and Kiran who were arrested. However, Sanjeev had gone to his native place Bihar in March, sources said.

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The police have registered a case of rape and under the SC/ST Atrocities (Prevention) Act, but there is no case against the factory owner for bonded labour.

“We were taken from Dumka district in Jharkhand to Delhi by a man named Dhamaru. We were handed over to unknown people who brought us to Bengaluru in October 2019. We were given work at Bharat Chemical Products, Kumbalagodu,” said the women.

They were allegedly promised ₹9,000 per month, but were given only ₹200 per week.

“The factory employs hundreds of workers who were made to sleep in a cramped room. The two women were made to work 15 hours a day on a regular basis. They were confined to the factory and not allowed to go out even to buy basic essentials, like soap and oil,” said Mallige Sirimane, an activist with Karnataka Janashakti, who played a role in their rescue.

Activists want the police to register a case of human trafficking and bonded labour, but the district administration is yet to inspect the factory premises.

“The first thing the government needs to do is to rescue others if held captive in similar conditions at the factory. The factory owner’s statement is yet to be recorded,” said Mallige Sirimane.

The activists of Karnataka Janashakti and SWAN have demanded an inquiry into the larger human trafficking network behind the case, all dues and compensation for the trauma suffered by the women to be borne by the company and its license be revoked.

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Sagar Biswas

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