The Chained Bonded Labourers Of Karnataka

Written By
Oruvingal Sreedharan
And
R. Muniyappa

Published by
Babasaheb Dr.B.R. Ambedkar Adhyayana Kendra, Bangalore-9

Dedicated
to
the five chained bonded labourers of Hangarahalli


We acknowledge the support given by the following leaders for bringing out this small booklet
Nanjunde Gowda (Rajya Raitha Sangha), Hennur Srinivas


"Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground The emptiness of ages on his face, And on his back the burden of the world,"

From : "Man with the Hoe"

During the year 1975, the Government of India declared Emergency and along with that many legislations for the benefit of the poorest of the poor were introduced. One such legislation was the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Ordinance 1975 which was replaced by the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976. This Act was declared to have come into force on 25.10.75. This Act was introduced with a view to prevent the economic and physical exploitation of the weaker sections of the people and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. At the time when the Act came into force there were thousands of bonded labourers in the State of Karnataka. According to the Act the Bonded Labour System were abolished on 25.10 1975 and the bonded labourers stood freed and discharged from any obligation to render any bonded labour from that date. The Act also provided that every obligation of a bonded labourer to repay any bonded debt should be deemed to have been extinguished. The Act further provided that whoever compelled any person to render any bonded labour should be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 3 years and also liable to pay a fine of Rs. 2000/-

The offences under the Act are to be tried summarily by Executive Magistrate. Again it is the duty of every District Magistrate and every officer specified by him under the Act to enquire whether after commencement of the Act any Bonded Labour System or any other form of forced labour is being enforced any where within the local limits of his jurisdiction and if any person is found to be enforcing the Bonded Labour System or any other system of forced labour he should forthwith take action.

The Act empowers State Governments to constitute vigilance committees consisting of the District Magistrate as its Chairman, three persons belonging to SC/ST from the district to be nominated by the District Magistrate, 2 social workers residing in the district, not more than 3 persons to represent official or non-official agencies in the district connected with rural development to be nominated by the state government and one person to represent the financial and credit institutions in the district to be nominated by the District Magistrate. The main functions of the vigilance committees are advising the District Magistrate as to the efforts made and action taken to ensure that the provisions of the Act or Rules made there under are properly implemented to provide economic and social rehabilitation of the freed bonded labourers, to co-ordinate the functions of the rural banks and co-operative societies with a view to channelising adequate credit to the freed bonded labourer, to keep an eye on the number of offences booked under the Act, to make a survey as to whether there is any offence of which cognizance ought to be taken under the Act and lastly to defend any suit instituted against a freed bonded labourer or a member of his family or a person dependent on him.

The bonded labourers are no doubt eligible for the benefits conferred on them by this Act. But that is not the only provision available for their welfare. They are also equally entitled to the benefits of the provisions of the Mines Act 19521. It is the duty of the Central and State Governments to ensure that the lessees and the owners of quarries complied with the provisions of the Act beneficial to the labourers working in the quarries and in stone crushing. It included providing drinking water, latrines and urinals and proper and adequate medical and first aid facilities etc. The Supreme Court of India in unambiguous terms has held that "it is the plainest requirement of Article 21 and 23 (of the Constitution of India) that bonded labourers must be identified and released and on release they must be suitably rehabilitated"2 There are no derth of laws, rules and court decisions in the matter. What is lacking is the political will of the ruling elite. Cuppled with it are the luckwarm and defiant attitude of the bureaucracy.

The Government of India used to allot yearly crores of rupees for implementing the provisions of the Act. It is not known how many crores of rupees the Karnataka Government got from the Centre for releasing and rehabilitating this unfortunate people and whether there were any official bodies at the state level to monitor and audit utilisation of these funds and whether the lists of beneficiaries are published or are available for scrutiny. The very fact that bonded labourers are still found in hundreds in various localities in the state who continued to work for years gives scope for the public to suspect whether there was any scam in the utilisation of funds released by the Centre for the purpose. The irrefutable fact is that the Bonded Labour System still persists in various parts of the State. It is not that these bonded labourers are new to the job, came into existence after the abolition and rehabilitation which the Government recorded in their affidavits filed before various courts. The existing bonded labourers have been working as such for years together without being able to clear their debts which went on mounting inspite of the fact that father, mother, son, daughter-in-law, sister, daughter and their children are all employed and worked as bonded labourers to clear their bonded debt.

Hangarahalli is a village in Srirangapatna Taluk, Mandya District of Karnataka State. There are more than 200 families in the village out of which 110 belong to Vokkaligas, 65 belong to Bhovi (SC) community and 25 belong to Holayas (SC) and others numbering about 5. This village is about 11 kms. away from Srirangapatna which is the taluk head quarters touching the Bangalore - Mysore State Highway. The district head quarters is at Mandya which is 12 kms from Srirangapatna and 108 kms from Bangalore which is the capital of Karnataka State. The village comes within the Pandavapura revenue sub-division and the Assistant Commissioner-cum-Sub-Divisional Magistrate is at Pandavapura. The Deputy Commissioner and District Magistrate is at Mandya. On enquiry it was found that there were no vigilance committees constituted as per the Act either at the sub-divisional level or at district level. The jurisdictional police station is at Arekere village which is about 8 kms away from Hangarahalli. There are two hospitals, one at Arekere the Hobli headquarters and the other is at Mahadevapura which is around 2 kms from the village. Hangarahalli is in between Shrirangapatna and Bannur. There is a small mud road from Srirangapatna - Bannur Road, about 1 kms long at 11th km from Srirangapatna, leading to the quarry where five bonded labourers were chained and forcibly kept and employed in cutting granite rocks and soling to small pieces for feeding the crushing machine.

There are more than 7 quarries in that area run by Puttaswamy Gowda, Rame Gowda, Ashok Gowda and Srirame Gowda spread in an area of 4 sq. kms. Puttaswamy Gowda alone has stone crushing machine. He has employed more than 30 families including the families of chained bonded labourers for the work in his quarries numbering about 4 within a radius of 1 sq. km. The period of licence for quarring granted to him by the Department of Mines and Geology, Government of Karnataka expired in the year 1997. But he continued quarring even after the date without any hindrance. He has been given electric power connection by the Karnataka Electricity Board and the supply of current continued even after the expiry of period of his license. He is stated to have been granted 2 acres of land adjacent to the quarry but he is in occupation of more than 15 acres of government land. Whenever there were labour problems he used to bring the police from Arekere police station and also rowdies from Mysore to settle it using criminal physical force by assaulting them with latties. The police personnel were well aware of what was going on in the quarries. But never took any action against Puttaswamy Gowda, instead helped him in his nefarious activities. He is stated to have supplied granites to various officers and political leaders who were constructing their buildings including residential houses. Thus he was enjoying their patronage. All the illegal and criminal activities of Puttaswamy Gowda though known to them were condoned and no action was initiated against him and he lived like an unquestioned king in the area.

During the last Zilla / Taluk Panchayat elections Sowbhagya Lokesh contested for Taluk Panchayat seat and Sumitra Nagaraj for Zilla Panchayat seat reserved for ladies. They belonged to Raitha Sangha. (A powerful movement of farmers in Karnataka led by Puttannaiah) One of the objectives of the Raitha Sangha is to fight social and economic exploitation.

The candidates started their election canvass and went along with Raitha Sangha activits to the quarry where the chained labourers were forced to work. They were stopped at the entrance to the quarry by Puttaswamy Gowda his son Arun Kumar and son-in-law Srinivas but Sowbhagya Lokesh and Sumitra Nagaraj and their Doddapalya team told them that they wanted to meet each and every worker and personally, request them to vote for them. Without caring their resistance Sowbhagya Lokesh & Sumitra Nagaraj and their team entered the premises of the quarry and started canvassing and distributing hand bills. The hand bills went into the hands of one Venkatesha a chained bonded labourer. Venkatesha saw the photo of Nanjunde Gowda in the hand bill. Nanjunde Gowda is a leader of Raitha Sangha led by Puttannaiah. After seeing the photo Venkatesha told the election canvassers to inform about his condition to Nanjunde Gowda and requested them to tell Nanjunde Gowda to take action for his release. It was shocking to the canvassers to see many labourers chained and forced to work in the quarry years together.

Sowbhagya Lokesh, Sumitra Nagaraj and their team promptly met Nanjunde Gowda and explained to him what they saw in the quarry and also about the request made by chained labourer Venkatesha.

Nanjunde Gowda could not believe it. So he made his own arrangements to find out the truth whether labourers had been chained and forced to work in quarry. He waited till the conclusion of election process. He discussed the matter with his close associates maintaining top secrecy. He was not able to discuss the matter openly in public because he suspected that his strategy to break the bonded labour system would be brought to the notice of the quarry owners who would definitely take precautionary measures against their proposed onslaught.

In pursuance of his strategy, Nanjunde Gowda invited Nethra Raju a renowned photographer to take photos and videos and press reporters for a function at Hangarahally on 22-6-2000 Thursday at noon. He did not reveal the nature of the function. He drafted about 150 well informed and militant Raitha Sangha activists for execution of his plan. He had to organise so much of militant forces as he knew that the quarry owners could easily manage any group of people less than hundred attempting to release the chained bonded labourers.

Nanjunde Gowda had given instruction to his 'Force' to run into various quarries immediately after their forcible entrance into the area and to discover the chained bonded labourers and bring them to the premises of the office of Puttaswamy Gowda at the quarries. They were also given instruction to forcibly remove any resistence if offered by the quarry owners. Some of the members of the 'Force' were directed to go to the huts of the bonded labourers and guard them to avoid them being used against the 'Force'. There are arrangements in the quarry to use the family members of the chained bonded labourers and other labourers against attempts by outsiders to free the bonded labourers. The quarry owners were using the bonded labourers to attack those who attempted to free them. For this purpose cycle chains, iron rods, lattis had been stored in the office. Nanjunde Gowda thought that the presence of 150 member 'Force' might create alarm in the minds of the quarry owners and suspicion in them. So he made the force to appear as the canvassers for the Pandavapura Sahakara Sakkare Kharkhane elections. Nanjunde Gowda, K. Nagendra Swamy, C. Swamy Taluk President, R.P. Nagendra, K.R. Keshava Murthy, Advocate Mandya, Pandu, P. Nagaraj, M.C. Nagaraju and Bhaskar of JD(S) led this 'Force' to the premises of the quarry on the appointed date and time. As soon as they reached the premises they divided into many groups as planned and ran towards various quarries to find out the chained bonded labourers and bring them to the office and also to the huts to guard the inmates. The quarry owners were taken by surprise and they could not prevent the various groups of the "Force" running towards various quarries and huts. Some attempts were made by Arun Kumar son of the quarry owner Puttaswamy Gowda and Srinivasa his son-in-law to prevent the groups from running towards the quarries where the chained labourers were working. The 'Force' did not care for the objections of the quarry owners but discovered and brought the chained labourers to the office. Some of the chained labourers had come for their lunch. The quarry owners were planning to evacuate the bonded labourers in a lorry apprehending that all of them would be released by the 'Force' and fearing other consequences but the 'Force' did not allow them to do so. In effect it was really more than a force since it achieved what the Police Force could not achieve.

The whole programme was meticulously arranged and executed. The reporters of news papers, Photographers, TV & Videographers, all assembled simultaneously and the chained labourers were presented before them by the 'Force'. The entire proceedings were photographed and recorded and widely published in the media. Nanjunde Gowda had informed Deputy Superintindent of Police Nagappa about the detection of chained bonded labourers. Nagappa showed no interest in it and casually told Nanjunde Gowda to report the matter to Arakere Police Station.

The bonded labourers were not taken to the jurisdictional police station at Arakere because the police in that station were fully aware of what was going on in the quarry and were acting in support of the quarry owners. When the bonded labourers left the quarries to bring money to repay Puttaswamy Gowda he used to file false complaint before the Arakere Police stating that they had committed theft and acting on the complaint the police used to go in search of them along with two or three rowdies of Puttaswamy Gowda and bring them to the station and assault them mercilessly and forcibly take their signatures on blank stamp papers and threaten them with further indebtedness. Therefore they were taken to the Srirangapatna police station and were made to sit on an 'Aralikatte', a platform with chains on their legs for the public to come and see them. People came in thousands and by mid night about 10,000 people gathered and remained there till 2' O clock in the night. While disbursing they shouted slogans in praise of Raitha Sangha leaders and condemning quarry owners. State President of Raitha Sangha K. S. Puttannaiah and former President of Mandya District Raitha Sangha Nanjunde Gowda led the demonstration.

The area comes under Mandya Parliamentary constituency now represented by matinee idol Ambarish belonging to Congress(I). He visited the spot along with another matinee idol Vishnuvardhan and they gave donations. The village comes under Srirangapatna Assembly constituency now represented by Parvathamma Srikantaiah. She also belongs to Congress (I) Party which is now ruling the State of Karnataka. Shivanna Minister of State for Finance Government of Karnataka is the Minister incharge of the district and belongs to Scheduled Caste. After hearing the news he reached Srirangapatna in the night itself. Raitha Sangha leaders told him that Puttaswamy Gowda has amassed wealth by exploiting the bonded labourers and demanded that his entire property should be confiscated and distributed among the families of bonded labourers giving 5 lakhs rupees each per family. The Sangha also demanded judicial enquiry and release and rehabilitation of the bonded labourers. Shivanna assured them that their demands would be fulfilled and thus tried to pacify the people assembled there and left the place.

After Kambalapalli where 7 Dalits were burnt alive, this chained bonded labour system became another black mark of shame not only on the people of Karnataka but also on the people of India who boast about their Welfare State. This is the state of affairs in India today even after more than half a century of Independence during which a major part of the governance was done by Congress Governments both at the States and at the Centre. Other Governments of Janatha, Janatha Dal, BJP are no exceptions.

The Raitha Sangha Leaders wanted to produce the chained bonded labourers before the Magistrate before the chains were cut and removed from their legs for the prupose of recording their statements under section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. According to this section the Magistrate has the power to administer oath to the person whose statement is to be recorded and then record his statement in the manner provided for recording evidence. But the Deputy Superitendent of Police Nagappa did not allow it on the ground that it was not necessary since he had taken videograph. When the Superintendent of Police came to Srirangapatna in the evening on 22-6-2000 this was brought to his notice and he assured that it would be done next day. But on 23-6-2000 before he came the chained bonded labourers were taken to a nearby welding shop at about 9 a.m. by the Police and the chains were cut and removed from the legs of the chained bonded labourers in the presence of State Minister Shivanna and the Mysore BJP MLA H.S. Shankaralinge Gowda. In the statement before the Public Enquiry Officer Advocate K.R. Keshava Murty has demanded that the government of Karnataka should own the responsibility for the distruction of primary evidence in this case.

By about noon the Home Minister Mallikarjuna Kharge who belongs to Scheduled Caste visited Hangarahalli and came to Srirangapatna and occupied the travellers bungalow. He directed the police to bring the freed bonded labourers to the travellers bungalow and also the chains for his personal physical examination. Shivanna and Parvathamma were also present in the travellers bungalow along with the Home Minister. Parvathamma was not to be seen any where till the Ministers came and when she came she started attacking the press which was covering the Minister's programme. There was allegation in a section of the press that she was seen in the quarry some time back which she denied. The police brought the bonded labourers and the chains. The Minister examined the chains to satisfy himself as to what would be its length and weight and of what metal. He also talked to the bonded labourers. While he was in a conference with officials, the Raitha Sangha activists assembled infront of the travellers bungalow and started shouting slogans and started Dharna sitting around the car of Mallikarjuna Kharge. Some officials came out from the conference and tried to pacify and disburse the agitating Raitha Sangha demonstrators but were in vain. At that time the MLA Parvathamma and her supporters came out from the conference hall and condemned the agitation. Thereafter the Minister himself came out. The Raitha Sangha leaders complained that the government had done nothing so far even though the State Finance Minister had agreed to fulfil their demands on the previous day. They also alleged that the government was trying to hush up the matter. They repeated their earlier demands and asked Mallikarjuna Kharge to announce its acceptance on the spot. They also demanded CBI investigation into the matter since the police department knew everything and was hand in glove with the quarry owners and therefore no impartial investigation could be expected from them. The Minister felt very much annoyed and told the agitators that he had seen such kind of agitations and he himself had conducted many such agitations. After hearing this the agitators became furious and aggressive. The Minister regained his composure and pleaded for time to do the needful.

Thus due to the efforts of Raitha Sangha the 15Kg iron chains on the legs of the bonded labourers were cut and removed and they were released. True, they had nothing to lose but their chains!

On the same day the Bhovi Kshemabhivridhi Sangha, Mysore organised a meeting of the Sangha and sent a memorandum to the Chief Minister of Karnataka. In the memorandum they demanded that severe action should be taken against the quarry owners of Hangarahalli and the Government should not yield to any political pressure. They also threatened that if justice was not meted out to the victims they would launch a state-wide agitation. The meeting also decided to organise protest rally at Mysore and also to take up the matter with the President of India, Prime Minister and others.

Even after one and a half months no judicial enquiry or CBI investigation has been ordered. No compensation worth the name has been paid. No district level or sub-divisional level Vigilence Committees have been constituted as required under the Act. This is the fate of all Scheduled Caste ministers whether of cabinet rank or of any other rank. They cannot take independent decisions on any matter without clearance from their boss. They are elected from reserved constituencies by joint electorate, a legacy left behind by Mahatma Gandhi. They are not answerable to the people for whom the seats are reserved. One day a Scheduled Caste cabinet minister told the Chief Minister of Karnataka that the Government was not following the usual practice of posting a Scheduled Caste officer either to the post of Deputy Commissioner or to the post of Superintendent of Police in each district. The next day morning the CM called him and told him that Scheduled Castes are waiting in a que in front of his door seeking appointment as ministers and the minister could remain as the minister only if he did what he dictated. In another case Somashekar a Scheduled Caste Cabinet Minister could not secure a file from his Deputy Secretary inspite of his best efforts. These things happen not only at state capitals but also at the Centre. There were complaints that the Secretaries were not implementing the directions given by the Scheduled Caste Ministers. A telephone subscriber cleared all the pending bills on 6-7-2000 but his telephone connection was not restored even after a month. He sent a letter to Ramvilas Paswan, Union Minister for Communications with a copy to the Senior Superintendent, Telecom Bangalore, in the matter. But bureaucrats ignored it. These instances are sufficient to show that though they are cabinet ministers, the Scheduled Castes are bonded labourers of the ruling class. They are subject to the discipline of the political party to which they belong. Their redumption from bondage lies in their joining a political party of their own castes and communities.

The only activity seen in this regard at Srirangapatna is the construction of about 25 houses at Ganjam on the suburbs of Srirangapatna Town. The site on which the residential houses are built measures about 20' x 30' while the smallest site usually given measured 30' x 40'. They are constructing twin houses to reduce the cost and to increase the inconvenience of the inhabitants. So far the Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation Limited had not opened its eyes and the Water Supply Board was still in deep slumber. `The Chief Minister of Karnataka attended the ritual of distributing the `Hakku Patras' (Titles) of the sites to 25 families of the bonded labourers.

The Bhovis are experts in cutting granite rocks and in almost all granite quarries in the state they work as bonded labourers. The chaining of the members of their community caused lot of disturbances among them and on 7.7.2000 Friday they conducted a mammoth protest rally in Mysore city under the auspices of 'Bhovi Kshemabhivridhi Sangha' under the leadership of Siddaramaiah, President of the Association and K.V.Chinnaiah Vice-President and K. Babu District President. The agitators demanded Rs.5,00,000/- compensation per family of the labourers, distribution of residential houses, educational facilities for their children and externment of quarry owners Putteswamy Gowda, Arun Kumar, Srinivasa and mestry Muniyappa from the District.

The Government of Karnataka is constructing about 25 houses for the released bonded labourers at Ganjam, Srirangapatna in the Government land of whom 17 families belong to Bhovi Community, 1 family Ediga, 1 family Uppara, 2 families Korama, 1 family Christian, 1 family Panner Gownder and 2 others.

The Bhovi community comes under the Scheduled Castes. As stated earlier they are traditionally stone cutters and they are experts in it. The entire family would be working in the quarry and they live and die in the quarry. Almost all of them are bonded labourers. They are illiterate and do not send their children to schools. The children also work along with their parents in the quarry. Though they are touchables their social and economic conditions to a large extent are equal to untouchables. Some times they move from quarry to quarry in search of work. There are cases where the houses allotted to them by the authorities are cancelled and reallotted to others due to their absence in the area. They are not given Ration Cards. Though minimum wages are fixed for them by the Government there is nobody to enforce it. They are perpetually in bondage. There are no effective organisations of their community working for their emancipation. Nanjappa Bhovi is a leader of Karnataka Dalit Sangharsha Samithi (DSS) and after seeing the plight of his community he has now formed an organisation called 'Bhovi Jananga Okkuta' (BJO). It functions as a wing of Karnataka Dalit Sangharsha Samithi (DSS). Under the auspices of this organisation a fact-finding team went to Hangarahalli on 8th July 2000. The team consisted of O.Sreedharan, one of the founder leaders of DSS and an advocate, R.Muniyappa and Nanjappa Bhovi both are DSS leaders and C.S. Parthasarathi a researcher and Nanjappa Harohalli an activist of BJO. The team went to the quarry. There was no body there and after a few minutes an Head Constable and a Constable came to enquire who they were. The Constable was narrating the facts which were found later to be true but the Head Constable gave a different version which were found to be false. For instance the Constable told that the chained labourers were not allowed years together to sleep with their families while the Head Constable told that the chained labourers were sleeping with their families in the night. But the chained labourers whom the team met later told the team that all the chained labourers were forced to sleep in the office room from 7 pm to 6 am. They were not even allowed to go out to answer the nature's call. The quarry owners told them to use their own vessels in the night for the purpose. This showed clearly the involvement of the police in the inhuman system going on in these quarries during the past several years. C.S.Parthasarathy went to the Bhovi Colony and interviewed some of the Bhovis. He also interviewed some of the Vokkaligas and gathered information about the nature of work going on in the quarries owned by Puttaswamy Gowda. They were all aware of chaining of the bonded labourers and they were blaming the authorities for not having taken any effective steps. None of them had any good opinion about quarry owners.

The team also visited an adjacent colony where bonded labourers belonging to Bhovi Community were residing. They could find out 37 families who worked as bonded labourers in the quarries. Their details are given in the Annexure-A to the Memorandum the BJO subsequently submitted to Her Excellency the Governor of Karnataka., on 24.7.2000 praying to issue suitable direction to the Government of Karnataka for taking immediate action to release and rehabilitate the bonded labourers. The Memorandum is reproduced below.

MEMORANDUM

May it please Your Excellency,

We are approaching Your Excellency with the burning problem of existing Bonded Labourers whom we met at Hangarahalli, Srirangapatna Taluk, Mandya District on 08.07.2000.

The Government of Karnataka have been filing affidavits in courts including in the High Court of Karnataka stating that the Bonded Labour System has been abolished and there are no bonded labourers in the state. This is far from truth. The fact that there are not only bonded labourers but some of these bonded labourers are chained has come to the notice of the Government and the public at large from the incident occurred at Hangarahalli widely published in the media.

The authorities appear to feel that the 5 chained bonded labourers alone were there at Hangarahalli. But when we paid a visit to the area we found many more bonded labourers there. The details are given in the Annexure- A to the Memorandum. They all belong to Bhovi community coming under Scheduled Castes.

These bonded labourers are residing in thatched huts without proper roofing. They don't have ration cards. No drinking water facility and the places where they reside are not fit for human habitation. They work from 6 a.m in the morning till 6 pm in the evening in the quarry. They are not paid minimum wages. Their children are not sent to school but forced to work in the quarries along with their parents. Among these bonded labourers there are graduates.

There are cases of deaths due to Tuberculosis (TB) after prologed working in the quarry. The patients have to avail medical treatment on their own. The creditors do not arrange for medical treatment. If they go for medical treatment to the hospital they are fined and the fine is added to the bonded debt. No compensation is paid when the labourers sustain injuries during the performance of their work or death occurs. They are not permitted to leave the premises of the quarry. When they go for purchase of provision they should get permission and if they come late they are fined and the fine is always Rs.100/- and above and the same is added to the bonded debt. If the labourers murmured they are often beaten. For this purpose rowdies from Mysore are brought.

The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act. 1976 envisages constitution of Vigilance Committees at the District and Sub-Division levels. On our enquiries we understand no such committees have been constituted in Mandya District. We also understand there are still thousands of bonded labourers in Mandya District and the authorities still maintain that there is no bonded labour system in the district.

We therefore pray that Your Excellency may be pleased to direct the Government of Karnataka.

1) To take immediate steps for release and rehabilitation of the bonded labourers listed in the ANNEXURE 'A' to this memorandum.

2) To direct the Government and the Deputy Commissioner of Mandya District to constitute the Vigilance Committees as per law.

3) To book cases and punish the creditors as per section 16 & 21 of the Act.

4) To institute an inquiry into the spending of crores of rupees per year of Central Government assistance for release and rehabilitation of bonded labourers and publish the List of Beneficiaries.

Nanjappa Bhovi
President
Bhovi Jananga Okkuta

Bangalore
24-7-2000


The team also went to Srirangapatna and was fortunate to find Nanjunde Gowda who was supervising the construction of houses along with other Raitha Sangha leaders. They also narrated the process adopted by them for releasing the bonded labourers in detail. The team also met K. Babu District President of Bhovi Community. The freed bonded labourers were employed by the government in the construction of their own houses. In many cases it was found that the construction has reached foundation level and the erstwhile bonded labourers were working enthusiastically. They had brought the materials of their huts from the premises of the quarries and put up their hunts in the construction site. The stories of the chained bonded labourers whom the team interviewed are as follows:-

1. Nagaraj

He belongs to a family which had participated in the construction of famous Krishnaraja Sagar Dam popularly known as Kannambadi Katte. He belongs to Bhovi Community. He had no work in the KRS Dam and he was unemployed and was finding very difficult to maintain his family consisting of his wife Venkatamma 40 years and daughter Eshwari (22 years). One day his wife's brother Venkatesh met him and told him about the availability of employment in quarries and took him to Puttaswamy Gowda who gave him Rs.500/- advance for maintenance of his family. Nagaraj started working in his quarry. He brought his wife and daughter to the quarry and all of them started working in the quarry. Instead of reducing, the debt began to grow and even after working for more than 5 years, they could not clear the debts instead it rose to Rs.2,300/- He asked Puttaswamy Gowda how the amount instead of reducing was growing exhorbitantly for which he was beaten mercilessly with lattis till the latti broke into pieces. He sustained grievous injuries and went to hospital for which he was fined Rs.100/- and same was added to his bonded debt. Finding no solution Nagaraj wanted to clear the debts by paying cash. He decided to go to his younger sister Subbamma residing at Bellur and collect the money required to clear the bonded debt. The quarry owners who were closely watching Nagaraj's movement followed him when he went to his sisters house and when he was asking for money from his sister he was caught by Puttaswamy Gowda and his three goondas and forcibly taken him in a jeep back to Hangarahalli. He was fined Rs.2,500/- and it was added to his bonded debt. He wanted some how to repay the debt and get out of the quarry and therefore one day went to another contractor Amib at Chinakurali village who told him to meet him the next day. While Nagaraj was waiting at the bus stop to go to the quarry he was again caught by Puttaswamy Gowda and his goondas who took him in a jeep to Yogesh Industries Mysore where there was a welding shop owned by Mahalingappa, a relative of Puttaswamy Gowda. A fifteen Kg iron chain about 3 ft long used for tying elephants was tied on his two legs. The iron ring around the legs were screwed at both the ends and it was tightened after covering the legs with cloths and there after the bolt and nut were welded. While doing so water was poured on the cloths in order to avoid burning of skin. Inspite of that the legs were burnt. It did not heal for several weeks and he was forced to walk with the chain on his legs suffering unbearable pain. He was not able to use underwear. Thus he worked for more than 2 months and lost all hopes of redemption. When he complained about his ill-health and incapacity to continue the work and promised to repay the debt he was told that he should work till he clears the debts or till he dies and if he died in the meantime he would be burried in the premises of the quarry as they did in many other cases.

The tragedy was that the chained labourers had to detonate the explosives to split the granite rocks and run away from the spot with the 3ft. 15 kg. chain on their legs to escape from the explosion.

2. Venkatachala

The other chained bonded labourer interviewed by the team was Venkatachala aged about 40 years. He too belongs to Bhovi Community. He came from Kyathanahalli village, Pandavapura Taluk of Mandya District. He was working at Mahadevapura where there was no sufficient work. Some of his friends residing at Hangarahalli told him that there was enough work in Puttaswamy Gowda's quarry at Hangarahalli and he could earn more money in that quarry. Therefore he left Mahadevapura quarry and joined Puttaswamy Gowda's quarry. Puttaswamy Gowda gave him Rs.1,000/- in advance. He worked there for some time. When it came to the knowledge of his relatives at native village Kyathanahalli, they cautioned him that Puttaswamy Gowda used to beat and ill-treat the workers and it was not a wise decision he took to join the quarry of Puttaswamy Gowda. After seeing the ill-treatment of workers by Puttaswamy Gowda, Venkatachala decided to leave the place after returning the bonded debt. One day he told Puttaswamy Gowda that he had already worked for a week and he would return the debt and sought two weeks time to bring money. For this Puttaswamy Gowda replied that he could leave the quarry only if he paid Rs.5000/- Venkatachala could not get such a big amount for clearing the debt and therefore he continued to work in the quarry. Puttaswamy Gowda kept a watch over him and started ill-treating him. Venkalachala finally decided to leave the quarry. There was a quarry at his native village. He went and joined there. He told the quarry owner that he was working with Puttaswamy Gowda and he had to clear his debt there and requested him for some advance. The quarry owner told him that he would give the advance after 15 days. Puttaswamy Gowda came in search of Venkatachala to Kyathanahalli and met the quarry owner under whom Venkatachala was working. The quarry owner told Puttaswamy Gowda that he could take the debt of Venkatachala back. But Puttaswamy Gowda refused and told him that he knew how to deal with Venkatachala and left the place. Puttaswamy Gowda was watching the movements of Venkatachala. One day when Venkatachala was at Srirangapatna he came with 3 persons who were in police uniform and caught hold of him and threw him into an Auto. He was taken to Karikatte a lonely place where he was severely beaten with belt and they threatened that his throat would be slit with a blade. From Karikatte he was taken to Hangarahalli by Puttaswamy Gowda and his son Arun Kumar and he was fined Rs. 2,500/- and the same was added to his bonded debt. They had kept chains ready at the quarry at Hangarahalli and as soon as Venkatachala was brought they chained his legs and welded using welding gun. Putteswamy Gowda and his son Arun Kumar were not well versed in welding and therefore during the process his legs were burnt. They brought Burnol and applied on the wounds.

After hearing the news his wife and children came to see him. Puttaswamy Gowda and his son Arun Kumar and son-in-law Srinivas threatened them that if they informed about the chaining of Venkatachala, they would face severe consequences. Unable to see the ill-treatment of Venkatachala by the quarry owners his family left the place. For 2 long years Venkatachala worked in the quarry with the chains on his legs. He was taken out at 6 a.m. early in the morning from the office room and made to walk 1 1/2 km to the quarry with the chains weighing about 15 Kg on his legs carrying hammer weighing 16 pounds and another weighing 8 pounds. Similarly after the sun set he was taken back to the office room and kept there along with other chained labourers and the door of the room was locked from outside.

He went on requesting the owner of the quarry to give him permission to go out and bring money for clearing his debts and whenever he made such requests he was taken to a nearby pipple tree and made to stand with his back towards the tree and both hands drawn backward from either side of the tree. They tied his hands with a rope and the other end of the rope tied on the tree suspending him on the rope allowing his foot hardly to touch on the ground. Sugar water was brought and his legs were smeared with it and the sugar water was also poured on the ground so that when he put his feet on the ground red ants would cover his legs and bite. If he raised his feet from the ground his whole body would remain suspended on the rope resulting in unbearable pain on his shoulders. This type of punishment was not only given to Venkatachala but also to other chained labourers. Thus the quarry owners tried to suppress all resistance to their ill-treatment of their bonded labourers. He worked in this manner till he was released by Raitha Sangha.

3. Venkateshappa &
4. Gopala

Venkateshappa belongs to Kadathanalu village near Pandavapura which is the sub-divisional head quarters. He is aged about 58 years and he is the father of three children. The eldest boy Gopala is aged about 28 years. Others are Krishna 20 years and Siddappa 18 years. His wife is Venkatalakshmamma aged about 50 years. All of them were working in Ningappa Gowda's quarry at Pandavapura. There quarrying was stopped due to objections from forest department. So about 4 years back they came to Hangarahalli in search of work. They met Puttaswamy Gowda and agreed to work in his quarry and took an advance of Rs.760/-. Again they took Rs.1,300/- to clear the debt outstanding to pay to the previous quarry owner Ningappa Gowda. In the mean time his two elder sons got married. Gopala was married to Lakshmamma and Krishna was married to Mahadevamma. All these 7 members of the family started working in the quarry of Puttaswamy Gowda. Inspite of working for 2 years the bonded debt did not reduce but raised to Rs.4240/-. The reason given for this increase was that the stones cut by him were of big size and therefore no wages could be paid for it. The practice of the quarry owners was that if 2 or 3 oversized stones were found in a tractor load, they used to deny wages to the entire load and also impose a fine of Rs.100/-. Unable to bear this malpractice of the quarry owners Venkateshappa told Puttaswamy Gowda that he would repay the debt and requested him to release him from bondage. Puttaswamy Gowda told him that he did not want money and the debt should be cleared only through labour. One day Venkateshappa and his family escaped from Hangarahalli and went to Bangalore and joined Babu's quarry at Anjanapura. After working for a few days Venkateshappa told Babu that he had to pay the bonded debt to Puttaswamy Gowda and asked for an Advance. Babu told him that he would pay the debt to Puttaswamy Gowda directly and asked him to bring him. Venkateshappa contacted Puttaswamy Gowda on phone and asked him to come to Bangalore as he was working in a quarry at Bangalore under Babu who had promised to repay the debt to him. Puttaswamy Gowda came and met Babu on Friday. Babu told Puttaswamy Gowda that he would send the money through Venkateshappa to Hangarahalli on the next Sunday. The next Sunday and Monday Babu did not come to the quarry. He came to the quarry on Tuesday. Immediately Venkateshappa approached him and reminded him about the promise he made to Puttaswamy Gowda to send the money to him on Sunday. Babu replied that he was busy with elections and could not come on Sunday and Monday and he would send the money in the evening. While Babu was going for his breakfast Puttaswamy Gowda met him on the way and asked why he did not send the money as promised. Babu replied that he would pay it and asked him how much Venkateshappa owed him. Puttaswamy Gowda told that Venkateshappa owed him Rs.25,000/-. Babu told him that he would pay it after ascertaining from Venkateshappa the actual amount and asked Puttaswamy Gowda to wait at the quarry for him till he returned. When Puttaswamy Gowda went to the quarry Venkateshappa was not present there. But all the members of his family were working in the quarry. Puttaswamy Gowda told them that he had paid Rs. 25,000/- to Babu and all of them should go with him and work in his quarry. He took them in his car and drove to Hangarahalli. When Venkateshappa came back he was told by other workers that Puttaswamy Gowda had taken all the members of his family in his car to Hangarahalli. Venkateshappa went and met Babu and told him what had happened. Babu did not say any thing about the amount to be paid to Puttaswamy Gowda but gave him Rs.500/- and asked him to go to Hangarahalli and bring back all the members of his family. Venkateshappa went to Hangarahalli and met Puttaswamy Gowda and asked him why he brought his family members back from Bangalore to Hangarahalli. Puttaswamy Gowda became furious and tied him to the tree. He tied his two hands behind the tree with a rope and tied the other end of the rope on a branch of the tree above him and thus suspended his body, his feet hardly touching on the ground. He smeared sugar water on the ground and on his legs so that if he lowered his feet ants would cover his legs and start biting - The usual method he used to follow to suppress all resistence.

Puttaswamy Gowda took Gopala to welding shop at Hebbala in Mysore, belonging to his relative Mahalingappa. Both Mahalingappa and his assistant Shivanna chained him and welded. There after Venkateshappa and Krishna were taken to the same welding shop and their legs were chained. After an year unable to work with the chains Krishna escaped from the quarry along with his wife and daughter and their whereabouts were not known. Puttaswamy Gowda was frantically searching for them. Krishna returned to Srirangapatna only after hearing the news of his parents' release.

5. Krishna

He belongs to Megarahalli Manti. He is aged about 38 years. He came in search of work accompanied by his wife and 3 children to Hangarahalli and met Puttaswamy Gowda and took an advance of Rs.500/- to repay his previous debts and started working in the Puttaswamy Gowda's quarry. After 3 months he found that his debt has increased to Rs.2900/-. When asked why his debt was not reduced but had gone up he was told that some of the stones he had cut were found to be oversized and therefore the entire load was not taken into account. He was fined Rs.100/- for having added oversized stones to the load. He was totally upset by this injustice done to him by the quarry owner. He realised even if he and his wife worked through out their life they won't be in a position to clear their debts. So one day he and his wife and children escaped from the quarry and went to his native village Magarahalli Manti. He was trying to collect money to repay his debts to Puttaswamy Gowda. One Sunday Puttaswamy Gowda and son-in-law Srinivasa and others came in a car to his house and forcibly took him, his wife and children back to Hangarahalli where he was mercilessly beaten till he became unconscious and suspended on a tree tying his hands behind him as the quarry owners used to do to others. On Monday they took him to the welding shop at Hebbal, Mysore and chained him as usual. Krishna and his wife started working in the quarry. Krishna was kept along with others in the office room and locked from outside from 7pm to 6am and was not allowed to sleep with his wife who later escaped with her children from the quarry. Krishna worked in the quarry with the chain on his legs for about six months till he was released by Raitha Sangha.

Karnataka Dalit Sangharsha Samithi (DSS) activists visited the spot and after ascertaining the facts submitted a memorandum to the Deputy Commissioner of Mandya District demanding judicial enquiry into the incident, arrest of the quarry owners, confiscation of their property, release and rehabilitation of bonded labourers, education to the children of bonded labourers etc. The DSS also threatened that if immediate action was not taken the DSS would organise hunger strike infront of the Deputy Commissioner's Office. A memorandum was also submitted to the Chief Minister of Karnataka S.M.Krishna with the same demands. In order to bring pressure on the authorities the DSS conducted picketing of the Deputy Commissioner's office, Mandya on 1.7.2000. The agitators were arrested and later released. The agitation was lead by Venkata Giriyaiah, B.Prakash both District Organising Convenors, B.Nagaraj District Committee Member, N.K.Jayaram, Pandavapura Taluk Convenor Kuradikere Suresh Nagamangala Taluk Convenor, Chaluvaraj K R Pete Taluk Convenor, Siddaraju Maralegala Srirangapatna, C.Andani, Rajesh Abalavadi Maddur Taluk Convenors. Mavalli Shankar State Organising Convenor was also present and addressed the agitators. Sreedhara Kaliveer State Organising Convenor who was camping at Madikere organised DSS activists and conducted Dharna at Madikere. M. Jayanna, DSS State Convenor issued a press statement urging the government to deal with the quarry owners under the relevant provisions of Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act. 1976. Continuing the agitation further, the DSS held Dharna infront of Chief Minister's residence at Bangalore on 10.7.2000.

The Dharna was led by Mavalli Shankar, R. Muniyappa, Marasandra Muniyappa, State Vice-President BSP, Lakshmamma, Nanjappa Bhovi and others. They also addressed the gathering. During the Dharna. A delegation went and met S.M.Krishna Chief Minister and submitted a memorandum demanding judicial enquiry into the incident, compensation and rehabilitation of the bonded labourers and stringent action against the quarry owners and confiscation of their property. He assured the delegates that he would examine the matter and do the needful.

The Mysore Divisional Commissioner who was appointed to enquire into the whole matter has submitted the enquiry report to the Home Minister Mallikarjuna Kharge on 12.8.2000. It is stated in the report that the Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation, the department of Mines & Geology, The Police & the Revenue Department are responsible for the tragedy at Hangarahalli. The Government may not take suitable action against the officers responsible unless organisations like Raitha Sangha, organisations of Bhovi Community and DSS brought sufficient pressure on the Government since there is nexus between criminals, politicians and bureaucrats in this case.

Dr. Venkatesh former Member of Parliament from Kolar had alleged that from the quarry of Puttaswamy Gowda many bonded labourers had disappeared and their where abouts were not known. He also alleged that a woman was burnt alive in the quarry. He held a silent rally & Dharna on Independence Day, the 15th August, 2000 infront of Gandhi Statue at Bangalore. The Rally was organised under the auspices of Akhila Karnataka Kallu Gani Bhu Kelasagarara Mahasabha and Bhovi Community Organisations. He had brought the five freed bonded labourers from Srirangapatna to the statue of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar infront of Vidhana Soudha at Bangalore and after garlanding the statue took them in a silent procession to the Gandhi statue and held a Dharna for about an hour.

There is a talk among the people of mediocre intelligence that these bonded labourers would take lumpsum advances from one quarry owner and after working for sometime in his quarry abscond from there and join some other quarry without clearing the bonded debts and under such circumstances the quarry owners would have no option but to chain them and make them work in the quarry of the creditor though chaining them would be too much. But they forget the naked truth that once a labourer takes an advance and enter into the quarry the advance would never come down but go on increasing even though the members of his entire family worked in the quarry.

Apart from this the quarry owners used to reject the entire load of sized stones if they found two or three oversized stones in a load and also impose fine which would be added to the bonded debt. It must be noted that the bonded labourers ran away from the quarries only to collect money to repay the bonded debt since they were ill-treated and when they realised that the quarry owners were cheating them without paying proper wages and that even if they worked through out their life the bonded debt could never be cleared. The bonded labourers are innocent people and they would never cheat the quarry owners and if they left their master it was only to collect money to repay and clear the bonded debt. Those who criticise the bonded labourers should go to a quarry and work there along with the bonded labourers atleast for a few days and get first hand knowledge about what is happening to the bonded labourers in a quarry. Mere criticism would be uncharitable.What is really taking place is exploitation of these poor, unorganised innocent labourers by the greedy and unscrupulous quarry owners with the active connivance of corrupt bureaucracy. Bonded labourers can be found almost in all quarries in Karnataka. The Karnataka State has seen governments of many political hues including that of Congress culture and of pseudo socialists. Whichever may be the government the elite ruled and the media played second fiddle. The agony of the poor never caught the attention of what is called the fourth estate. The organisations of the poor wasted their hard earned money in calling press conferences. The correspondents used to attend the conferences and listen to the grievances and take statements. But not a single word would appear in the news papers. They had other sensational priorities. But Samyukta Karnataka, a Daily has been an honourable exception. The governments are deaf and the press is dumb and if the poor agitated they were burnt alive or beaten to death on public roads. Where is the salvation? It is time for the downtrodden and minorities to ponder over it seriously. Why should they vote for a government which is deaf? If they mind they can have a government of their own since they constitute the majority of voters of this country. Many among the depressed castes, the other backward castes and the minorities have realised it and are grouping together under the banner of Bahujan Samaj Party of Kanshi Ram and Mayavathi. What about joining this new experiment never tried before in India?. After more than half a century of Independence what did you get? Iron Chains on your legs!! Join BSP and rule this country.



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