Bengaluru: Over 100 bonded labourers who were rescued from an agarbatti (incense sticks) factory on the outskirts of Bengaluru last week, are on their way back home. The workers, from West Bengal, Jharkhand, Assam, and Nepal had been locked up and guarded with dogs to prevent them from leaving.
The owner of the company along with three supervisors have been arrested. They face charges connected to human trafficking, bonded labour, and the Juvenile Justice Act.
An early morning raid at the agarbatti manufacturing unit in Kaggalipura, near Bengaluru on May 28th by district authorities, found the labourers living in miserable conditions.
One of the labourers, Simon Martho, told NDTV, "I come from Jharkhand. We were brought to the Balaji company by an agent. We work in Balaji company from 9 am to 12 am. Then they wake us up again at 6 am. There were 7 guards and two dogs to prevent us from running away. They used to beat us up and when we fell ill they didn't even give us proper medication. We were not given medicines or taken to hospital even though we asked for it. The boss used to hit us too. Neither did he let us go out nor did he give us our money. He didn't give us anything, I haven't even been paid one rupee...."
Another worker said, "It's been two years since I started working here but they have not let me go back yet. We haven't been paid even a single penny. They didn't pay us any advance. When I asked about it, they told me they will send it to my account but they never did so. Now I am going back home to Jharkhand and I'll do some job there."
Madan Munda, another worker, spoke of being trapped. "When I went to my room at night there used to be 7 guards and dogs. Because of that we were not able to go out. They used to lock us from outside after we sleep," he said.
An NGO, the International Justice Mission, was asked to help with the rescue and rehabilitation of the victims. Esther Daniel, Director of System Reform with IJM said, "What was most heartbreaking was the stories of these young boys. They are in the age group of 13 to 14 years. They are very young. There are about 3 or 4 child labourers. Some have worked for about three months and many of them have worked for around two years and their work condition is so bad that they have not even been paid anything."
"There is one boy, who heard that his mother's leg had broken and asked him to come and see her. When he tried to ask permission for leave, they said no. He managed to run away but was apparently caught and brought back. He was then beaten." Ms Daniel said.
"When I was in the factory at the time of enquiry, I saw a small hall which had only one toilet, and the place where these boys were living had another toilet. 107 people had just two toilets to use." Ms Daniel said.
The labourers are now returning home from their nightmare outside Bengaluru - with the hope of a better future.