Out of bondage


BANGALORE: Bonded labour __ its practise reduces the human spirit to scum. The debased manner of extracting labour by literally holding people prisoners of their hapless circumstances, may be totally out of sync with the New Millennium `mantra' of progressive thinking, or the avant garde work culture where money talks.

Contrasts can't be more unnerving, or contradictions more startling. The unsavoury truth that the practice of bonded labour prevails to this day, negates in a single sweep all pretensions of a progressive social order, flinging us right back into the Dark Ages. And exposed threadbare in all this is the Janus-faced governance in our country. The hypocrisy of leaders who will shut their eyes to the exploitation of the underprivileged in their backyards as it gets them no mileage. But they relish the tingle of rubbing shoulders with world audiences in plush five-star ambience, far away from the heat and dust of rural India. Under city lights they engage in rabble-rousing, projecting India among players on the supertechnology highway. When will we learn to strike the middle path? Let's face it, not a day goes by without reports in the newspapers of bonded labour in some nook or corner of the country. Mind you, 21st century notwithstanding, slavery is still a real issue. Reports of ruthless employers pulverising labourers into submission, in several cases keeping them in shackles as they squeeze out the last drop of life juices in them, leaving them burnt out and shrivelled up, no longer shock the public. Such news-items have become passe and hardly arouse the sensitivities of people. But where is human dignity in all this? And what about the collective social conscience?

For most of us, such instances are distant, way outside our circle of reference, and therefore of little consequence. And so the abominable practice thrives, with none, least of all our leaders, raising a whimper against it.

Stories of bonded labour are wrenching. But some are an eye-opener into the psyche of the unfortunate people, who as victims of circumstances have been sold into slavery, literally. How despite the yoke of tyrannic employers, they dare to dream ... of freedom, of a time when they will be free, when they can lead dignified lives, reunited with families. One such story which appeared in the newspapers some two weeks ago was a heart-stopper. Thirteen-year-old Sanjeevamurthy, from a village in Chitradurga district in Karnataka, was given in bondage three years ago, for a paltry Rs 6000 that the boy's father owed the landlord.

For his errant father's commissions, Sanjeeva was rudely plucked out of his home and school and transposed to landlord Revanasiddappa's fields. At the tender age of 10, he was made to slog for his father's follies. He dare not protest, even as his life, most of all, his dream of becoming a doctor lay in pieces.

He toiled without complaining for more than 12 hours a day, watering the plants, rearing cattle and running errands for his master. But all along, he treasured the idea of becoming a doctor and would not let the fire die out under any circumstances. After three years, when the period of bondage ended on July 12 this year, he waited for no confirmation from anyone. He fled the scene in pursuance of his dream.

Sanjeeva approached the principal of a school in Davanagere, and pleaded to be admitted to the seventh standard, to resume from where he had left off. He was directed to the Deputy Commissioner of Davanagere district K. Shivaramu. On the intervention of the DC, the district administration has taken the boy under its wings, put him in a hostel, provided him books, clothes and above all, admission to school.

Today, Sanjeeva is thrilled about freedom from bondage, but more than that, he is excited that he is on the road to realising his ambition of becoming a doctor. Happiest must be DC Shivaramu and his entourage for putting the boy back on track. What is life without social concern?

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Referred by: Mukundan C.M.
Published on:August 5, 2001
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