40 Children rescued from bonded labour

The Asian age, New Delhi July 19, 1998

By Elisa Patnaik


New Delhi: Ten-year-old Narad couldn't sit for a moment without falling asleep on the shoulders of his friends. Suffering from high fever, he perhaps did not even comprehend why he was being presented at a press conference. What he only remembered were the harsh conditions in which his little hands would weave carpets 15 hours a day and the torture meted out to him as a bonded child labourer in an obscure village in Uttar Pradesh.

Narad is among the 40 children who were freed from bondage in a district in Allahabad on July 15, 1998 by the Bandhua Mukti Morcha, a non-governmental organisation. Thirty five of them were from Bihar.

Two months back, Narad, who worked in a carpet factory at Handra Block, Uttar Pradesh was hung from the trunk of a neem tree and hit with a brick, for being slow at weaving carpets. His clothes were torn and horrified by the incident he defecated.Panic stricken, six children from the unit including Narad escaped to another village only to be caught by the owner of the loom.

Four of them were brought back and beaten mercilessly. Thirteen-year-old Raj Kumar, the eldest of them, was also hung from a tree and thrashed by an iron rod.
Acting on an up-off the BMM organised raids in the carpet weaving units at 'Handia' on July 15, 1998 with the help of the local administration and the police and rescued 40 children from the infamous carpet belt of Allahabad, Varanasi-Mirzapur.
The parents of these children were lured by the local agents with the promise that the children would earn good wages after being trained in the carpet factories and so were paid measly amounts as advance money. They were brought to the area one and a half years back and were handed over to the loom owner.

Four of the children present there, Pagun Vishwanath Narad, and Raj Kumar all below 13 years, said they were forced to live in subhuman conditions. They said that they worked from 6 am. to 9 p.m. with short breaks for lunch and dinner which comprised of only rice and dal. They were given only a limited quantity of food and were not given any wages either, they said.

At nights they were locked from outside and made to sleep on gunny bags spread out on the floor. For defecation in the morning they were accompanied by a guard with a stick.
Parents could not visit them because they were not aware of the whereabouts of these children.To make them work for longer hours, the loom owner has got them addicted to Surti (a combination of tobacco and limestone).

Refusing the claims of the Central and the Uttar Pradesh governments that the incidents of bonded child labour had come down to a negligible level in the carpet industry, chairperson of BMM Swami Agnivesh said "in the carpet industry alone, there are about 300,000 children labouring in hazardous conditions," The number of children in bondage across the country is more than 65 million, he added. 'The children were weaving carpets, making the Rugmark labels which are supposedly certified as free of 'child labour.'

They also met Union labour minister Saryanarain Jatiya' on Saturday. Swami Agnivesh regretted that even the Supreme Court's December 10, 1996 judgement directing the states to nab guilty employers and a fine of Rs. 25,000 for each released child to be deposited in the child's account for his education, had not been implemented.