Back in his home in Shamli with his three-month pregnant wife, 24-year-old Rehan is relieved. But he is worried at the same time as his wife needs medical treatment and he has no money. A week ago, Rehan and his wife, Afsana, were rescued along with 14 other bonded labourers from a brick kiln in Sambhal district.
Among those rescued were seven children and four women. The five families were confined at the brick kiln by three men and made to work without any wages for the last three months.
“My wife is still recovering from the injuries she sustained after she was beaten up by the contractor when we demanded our wages. She was unwell and I needed money for her treatment. When I asked for money, the contractor beat me up. As Afsana intervened, she was also not spared,” says Rehan from his home in Shamli.
All those rescued from the brick kiln at Machhhar village in Asmoli area of Sambhal district hail from west UP districts of Baghpat, Shamli and Muzaffarnagar.
All of them landed at the brick kiln from Kashmir, where they had gone to work with the easing of the Covid lockdown in June. Three of the rescued labourers told The Indian Express spoke that they had gone to Kashmir in June after they were “promised good wages and steady work” as they had no work due to lockdown.
“In June, we had gone to Kashmir with a contractor after work had dried up due to the lockdown. We were promised high wages and steady work by the contractor who I met through an acquaintance. There he handed us over to another contractor. We spent five months in Kashmir and worked there on construction sites but were not paid anything. Then, we were sent back to UP on a truck. Once we reached Sambhal, we were made to work for 13 hours.
We were not given any money, only some ration – five kilos of rice, five kilos of wheat and one kilo of pulses to each of the five families,” says Rehan who was confined at the brick kiln since November 1.
Haroon (35) and wife Rubeena (32) from Baghpat were confined at the brick kiln with their five children, aged between eight and two years. “My eldest daughter, who is eight, was also made to work. When we ran out of ration, the contractor would say that we will have to manage with what we were given,” says Haroon.
His wife Rubeena rues that they are yet to receive Rs 20,000, which they were promised by the officials when they were rescued. “We have not been paid for our work of the last six months… We are struggling to feed our children now, but at least we are relieved that we are at home. We were told we will be paid Rs 20,000 as compensation which will be transferred to our bank accounts, but nothing has come yet,” she says.
Both Wajid (21) and Sana (20) – residents of Muzaffarnagar – are injured. “My wife still has a plaster in her hand as she was beaten up with lathis by the thekedar (contractor) at the brick kiln. I have also sustained injuries in my leg. We were beaten up when we demanded wages and more food. In Kashmir, the contractor owed us around Rs 25,000, but we were not paid anything,” says Wajid.
They were rescued by Sambhal district administration after NGO named Bandhua Mukti Morcha informed them about over a dozen people being made to work as bonded labourers at the brick kiln near Machhhar village.
Nirmal Agni, general secretary of Bandhua Mukti Morcha, says that they got to know about them when they were leaving Kashmir in the last week of October. “They had no idea where they were being taken to. One of the labourers got to know about us and called us, saying they were being trafficked from Kashmir to UP. We narrowed down the location to Sambhal district and got in touch with district officials there. They were rescued on November 23. All the labourers who were rescued have been issued ‘release certificates’ under the rules for rescue of bonded labourers,” Agni says.
“Under the rules for rehabilitation of bonded labourers, they are supposed to be paid Rs 20,000 when they are released, but that amount has not been paid yet,” he adds.
According to Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM), Sambhal, Jeetendra Yadav, the compensation to the rescued labourers will be given after the summary trial in the case is done. “The FIR has been lodged, and the summary trial where both parties will present their sides, is scheduled to begin in soon,” Yadav says.
Meanwhile, on Saturday, a case was lodged at Asmoli police station in Sambhal based on a complaint from District Labour Office. “We have not arrested anyone yet. We have lodged the FIR against Haji Zahid and Haji Shahid, who are the owners of the kiln and contractor Reyaz,” Station Officer (Asmoli) Ranveer Singh says.
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