Militant action against bonded labour : Agnivesh

The Statesman, Calcutta March 21, 1994 - By Alok Banerjee

Agnivesh says it is impossible for the judiciary to act as a forum for redress for the hapless bonded labourers.

TAKING the cue from the Naxalites' line of agitation, the Bonded Labour Liberation Front, led by Swami Agnivesh, has decided to launch a militant struggle and take the law into its own hands to liberate the bonded labourers of the country.

The front has also decided to strive towards forming a broad based alliance of both the mainstream Left and Naxalite parties to build a struggle against what it calls exploitation of the multinationals and the IMF.

Swami Agnivesh, who is in the city to attend Monday's rally of the AIPRF, an umbrella organisation of four underground Naxalite outfits, told The Statesman on Sunday that his organisation would hold joint agitational programmes with the Naxalites to eradicate the problem of bonded labour in the country.

He said that there were about 50 lakh bonded labourers in the country at present and about 5.5 crores of children working in conditions of virtual slavery. The maximum concentration of bonded labourers is in Bihar and Orissa followed by Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, he said. The children working in the carpet, glass, match box and the fireworks industries are also working as virtual slaves, Swami Agnivesh said.

"These labourers can not seek jobs elsewhere as they have been trapped in a bondage of debt to their employers and have to work under inhuman conditions and extremely poor wages", Agnivesh said, Neither the States nor those at the Centre were genuinely interested in eradicating the problem, he alleged.

"We have explored all the legal avenues for the last 15 years and are convinced that it is impossible for the judiciary to act as a redressal forum for these hapless people", Swami Agnivesh said and added: "The desperate situation has left us to a situation where we have no alternative but to defy law and take militant action.

Agnivesh said that implementation of the dominant development model, as proposed by the IMF, the World Bank and GATT, was perpetuating the problem of bonded labour in the country. The development model, as pursued by the Centre as well as State Governments, is based on the theory of using cheap labour which encourages the system of bonded labour, he said.

He added that the BLLF did not wish to propagate the cult of violence but the situation demanded a movement out of the purview of peaceful methods. He, however, refused to elaborate on the exact course of action that the BLLF was planning to undertake and said that it would depend on the situation.

Commenting on the role of the mainstream Left, including the CPI and the CPI(M), in eradicating social evils such as the system of bonded labour, Agnivesh said that these parties had strayed away from the promises they had made earlier and the leadership of the movement must be provided by the Naxalites, inspite of some of their adventurist trends.