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How 52 Tribals And Dalits Were Sexually Harassed, Held Captive for 3 Years in Karnataka

Image for representation.

Image for representation.

Police received information of the bonded labourers after a man escaped, scaling a 12-feet wall and reached for help. The youngest victims in the case are two six-year-old boys, while the oldest is a 62-year-old man, Ganesha.

New Delhi: For close to three years, 52 Dalit and tribal persons, including 16 women and 4 children, were “enslaved” in a heavily guarded, small shed and forced to work as labourers for 19 hours a day without wages across Karnataka, said the police, adding that protests led to beatings with a horse whips and the women being sexually harassed.

The police conducted raids on Sunday at the small shed at the Hassan area of Karnataka, where the victims – where some had been living for three years – had lived alongside each other in inhuman conditions. The police received information of the ongoing bonded labour ring after a man escaped scaling a 12-feet wall and reached for help.

An FIR has been lodged under sections 323, 324 (wrongful confinement), 344 (theft), 356 (sexual harassment) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) Bonded Labour System (Abolition Act) and the SC, ST (Prevention of Atrocities Act). The police have arrested two persons in the case.

While there have been cases of bonded labour across the country, the police admitted that a number of reasons made the case worryingly unique: the targeting of migrant workers, the use of a distressed agrarian economy and the pre-meditated system of bondage. “We are worried that there might be more such cases in the area,” admitted an officer.

The youngest victims in the case are two six-year-old boys, while the oldest is a 62-year-old man, Ganesha. While some were kept in the shed forcibly for up to three years, the most recent victim had been staying there for a month, added the police.

M. Prathima from International Justice Mission described the living conditions in the shed and said, “They were locked up at night. As a result, they would complain at night that they needed to go to the toilet. Finally, a pipe was installed inside the shed and they were asked to use that corner as a toilet. Women would have to use it, and their husbands would hold up a towel as a curtain to try and protect their privacy.”

The accused have been identified as Munesha, Krishnegowda, Basavaraja, Pradeep and Nagaraja. The land, where the shed existed was owned by Bangalore-based Krishnegowda while Munesha was the main operator, said the police.

Explaining the modus operandi, a senior police officer said, “Two auto drivers would target migrant workers at railway stations. Either these were workers looking for work, or the ones in transit they would walk up to them and offer a day’s work for Rs 600 or so. But afterwards they would capture them and virtually enslave them.”

Once the auto drivers brought the workers to the shed, they were stripped off their clothes and their belongings – including identity cards, phones and money – were taken away. “They were told that any attempts at escaping would lead to violence,” added the officer. Most of the victims were from Karnataka, while others were from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

From that point, their lives would be completely transformed. Three meals a day and an occasional pouch of local alcohol for the men were the only ‘payment’ for the workers, while disobedience was met by beatings with a horse whip and meals being stopped. At night, they’d be locked up in a shed while four guards remained on tenterhooks to prevent any attempt at escape.

“The work operated on a demand and supply basis. So during the brick kiln season, they worked there. When they were rescued, they had been working at a ginger farm. Their work day would start at 3am and they’d work up to 10pm,” added Prathima.

The police said that Munesha had two vehicles – which have been seized – which he used to transport the workers from one work spot to the other. “Since they had all seen each other getting beaten up, they never gathered the courage to speak of their plight where they had been working. This was a form of intimidation that the accused utilized to keep them obedient,” added the police.

The Indian government is currently considering a new legislation designed to target human trafficking that was earlier passed in the Lok Sabha.
first published:December 19, 2018, 19:39 IST