7 Orissa children escape bondage

Saturday April, 16 1994,
The Times of India, New Delhi

By a Staff Reporter

NEW DELHI, April, 15

SEVEN children working as bonded labourers have been rescued from a flyover construction site in Shahdara. Hailing from Orrisa, they are less than 17 years of age; the youngest is 13. They were rescued by a Sarvodaya worker, Mr. Gopal Giri, who brought them to Swami Agnivesh of the Bonded Liberation Front (BLF).

Swami Agnivesh said he would take up the matter with the chief minister, Mr. Madan Lal Khurana, and the labour minister, Mr. Harsharan Singh Balli, He has urged the Delhi Administration to trace the culprits and obtain release certificates for the children. He added that efforts were being made to rescue the other 40 odd children, working at the site.

He said he visited the Seelampur police station, in north-east district, on April 11 and 12 but they refused to register a case against the accused.The additional deputy commissioner of north-east district police, Mr. Pranab Nanda, said neither Swami Agnivesh nor any of his men went to the police station with such a complaint on either day.

PRESS MEET : All seven children were present at a press conference where the Swami narrated their tale. From Odowa and Veerkot villages in Orissa's Gazipatti district, they were reportedly promised Rs 3,350 and two meals a day, by a racketeer on February 13 last. At the Baluga railway station, the alleged labour contractor took over and herded them into a Delhi-bound train. None of them had informed their parents.

They reached Shahdara on February 15. The next day, the were put to work on the flyover. Their day began at 8 am and ended at nightfall, sometimes as late as 11 p.m. The twice-a-day meals promised turned out to be insufficient and every Sunday, they were paid Rs 5. Upon protesting, they were repeatedly beaten and locked at night inside a room. Five days later, they made an unsuccessful bid to escape.

Caught by the contractor's musclemen, they are said to have been thrashed and subjected to electric shocks and other forms of physical torture. Two of them started vomiting blood and another two suffered severe chest pain and urinary problems. The labour contractor told them he had paid Rs. 5,000 for them and had spent another Rs. 300-400 on train fare. He threatened them with dire consequences if they ever tried to escape again.

HELP PROVIDED: On March 30, four of the 40-odd children working at the site, Dushyant Nayak, Balkrishna Bastrai, Sanjeev Naik and Manual Bastrai managed to escape and take refuge at a nearby Leprosy home. Here, they were helped by Mr. Gopal Giri, who later managed to rescue another three children, Sushil Nayak, Manoj Mahapatra and Raj Kumar Veero. Last Tuesday, Mr. Naik contacted the BLLF.

The Swami told reporters that the children's parents have been told of their whereabouts and efforts were on to send them home with police escort.