Could prompt police action have saved the hands of the labourers?

In a voice news report at CGNet Swara, social activist Bighnaraj Panda who tells Mahammad Ashlam from Kalahandi Odisha that he went to SP office on 13th December itself to inform him about the abduction of the laborers.He also gave numbers for abductors to the police. On 14th they also went to local police station in Jaipatna with families of abducted labors to file a FIR. No FIR was filed, no action was taken.

The labourers, originally paid an advance to work in Andhra Pradesh after their rice harvest were forcibly abducted and taken to Raipur work in brick kilns in Chattisgarh before the harvest. 10 out of the 12 labourers abducted escaped and returned to their village, while the contractor turned back with the remaining two to recover advances paid. On the way, after heavy drinking and demands that the two captured labourers repay the advances paid to all twelve, the contractor chopped off their hands saying that if they refused to work for him, they couldn’t work for anyone. The incident of chopping hands took place at night of 15th December. This was two days after the abduction was brought to the attention of police.

It is possible that something as simple as police calling up the provided numbers to ask about the abudction could have made the labour contractors wary and prevented the severing of the hands of the two labourers.

At the last update, five men have been held and two detained for the crime. Bandhua, a campaign against bonded labour has demanded immediate action against the contractors along with compensation and rehabilitation for the now disabled labourers.

While The Indian Bonded Labour System Abolition Act of 1976 prohibits any service arising out of debt, including forced labour and bonded labour, bonded labour continues to remain common in India. However, with most of the people affected being from the very poor and marginalized castes who are also often migrants, there is little awareness or political will to tackle the issue, while contractors and employers continue to be powerful and politically connected local bigwigs. Thus the act remains mostly on paper. Mines, brick kilns and other labour intensive work with dismal working conditions often engages bonded labour who are often paid too little for the original loan to be recovered.

This story is compounded by a police force notoriously callous about abductions. In fact, a missing person report is rarely taken seriously, as was shockingly displayed in the cases in the immediate aftermath of the December 16 Gang Rape in Delhi, where a five year old gang raped had been reported missing and ignored by the police, while another young woman who later landed up dead was assumed by the police to have run away with someone and her mother was not taken seriously when she reported her daughter missing.

This case, at a bizarre intersection of the callousness of our system is a marker for where we are in terms of evolution as a country for all its citizens. The exploitation of debt to force labourers to work in undesirable conditions, the abduction, torture, the blind eye to complaints of abduction accompanied by identities of abductors and phone numbers, the lack of media attention and the ongoing lack of accuracy in reporting what is basically a non-interesting fringe story for media, the lack of any serious outrage…. all points to us being a country where two men tortured, their hands deliberately severed, in hospital with severe blood loss and fighting for life, their lives – if they recover –  forever blighted by further poverty from even more reduced capacity to earn…. are not important.

Some people are more equal than others. Others are far less equal than others, but of course, we are all equal. On paper. As long as the paper isn’t newsprint.

Yep. Here we are. Long way to go before claiming to be civilized.

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