The trickle that turned into a flood

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As a few bonded families got freedom, others joined the rebellion. Anumeha Yadav reports from Baran

Photo: Tarun Sehrawat

Ninety-two bonded labour families have come forward to demand freedom in Baran district in south-eastern Rajasthan. These families have spent years working without wages on farms of rich landlords from whom they had borrowed money. TEHELKA had earlier reported (A stone for Bhanwar Lal. Occupation: Slave, 18 December 2010) how landless Sahariya tribals were working as halis or bonded labourers in six villages in Baran, in some cases since generations.

It was at a Jaipur dharna demanding minimum wages under MNREGA that the story of this 21st century bondage first emerged. Picking up the cue, TEHELKA traveled to Baran’s Shahbad and Kishanganj talukas, reported on how Sahriyas were being kept as slaves, and followed up on these families’ rehabilitation with district and state administration (16 Sahariya families break from their shackles. But who will rehabilitate them, 14 January 2011). More and more families have rebelled since, including four dalit families.

On 22 February, at a public meeting organized at Baran by Soochna Evum Rozgaar Abhiyaan, National Advisory Council member Harsh Mander, National Judicial Academy, Bhopal, Director Mohan Gopal, Rajasthan Labour Secretary Manohar Kant, Baran district collector Naveen Jain and other officials listened to the testimonies of 108 families.

The extent of feudal exploitation in Baran is still unraveling. Speaking to TEHELKA, Parvati Bai (name changed) said she and her 13-year old sister were gang-raped in January by Madan Meena, the landlord she and her husband have worked without wages for in Alampura Chabra village since three years. “We had tried to flee last Diwali when my husband fell ill and our landlord refused to give Rs 200 for medicines. Chasing us, Meena landed at my parent’s house in Laloni with his brothers, cousin, nephew. He managed to get my husband, my younger sister and I to ride back pillion with them on motorcycles. On the way back, the three motorcycles parted ways. They stopped near Nahargarh forest and raped me,” she narrated. Later, she found out that the landlord and two of his relatives had raped her younger sister taking her to another spot in the forest. “They dropped me home at midnight; two hours later, they dropped her. She was in shock and bleeding. She narrated how they had stripped and gagged and raped her repeatedly,” she said.

When TEHELKA followed up on Parvati Bai’s police complaint at Nahargarh, police officials noted down the incident’s details. “My staff were not aware this is a rape case, I will correct this,” said Om Prakash, Superintendent of Police, Baran. The police has since registered a case of rape under Section 376, and arrested three of the five named by Parvati Bai. They have arranged for the sisters’ medical examination, and say they are searching for the two accused who are absconding. Inspector General of Police Dalpat S Dinkar visited Nahargarh police station on 25 February.

Parvati Bai’s family was one among 14 families that fled Alampura Chabra in the dark and walked two nights to Iklera 70 kms away when they found out that 16 halis had earlier been rehabilitated and given work here under MNREGA. “We met Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and shared these details and he has said he will appoint a nodal officer to rehabilitate and assist these families,” said Motilal of NGO Sankalp that has been documenting these families details and providing them food at Iklera.

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