“Bhaata todo, Bhaata khao” ( work in mines, eat mines) is the anecdote that runs across the 500-600 families of Kherwa Community in Village Peenjna, near Bhanwargarh (Baran district) where almost 60% of the population is working as stone cleaners, stone cutters, loaders (Hamali) prominently in mining and construction industries as bonded labour, a dated concept in today’s world. Almost all the families are from underprivileged sections of the society.
Mohanlal started working on mines as a manual labour from childhood, when he used to accompany his father on mines where he was working as hamali. Today he himself works as a bonded labour in those very mines because his father could not repay the debt of Rs. 12,000 he had taken from the owner during his work life. The debt has only grown over time to Rs.70, 000.
His father contracted tuberculosis due to unhealthy working conditions and continuing the legacy Mohanlal is also now a victim of TB. They have no medical support or social security cover by the Government or the employer.
Even after 66 years of Indian Independence, these workers are still fighting for their lives and are at the mercy of their contractors – they are not paid fairly, undergo torture/banishment when try to change job. Whenever any of the workers wishes or tries to leave, he is manhandled by the contractor and their henchmen. They are abducted forcibly from their home and forced to pay their dues. Often, the expense incurred for the abduction is also added to the debt. There are instances where a worker has been beaten up mercilessly, when he asked for settlement of dues and payment.
What is worse is that they have lost all hope that things can change, that they can ever get out of this miserable condition. A 28 year old Mohanlal says “agar mera baap majdoori karta tha to mujhe bhi majdoori karni hi padegi kyunki usne jo karza liya tha wo chukana hai”
For them independence means to get free of bondage which seems to be a next horizon for their lives.
“Does Light over the Horizon add up to Light in our Lives.”
Aarti Bhardwaj, Aajeevika Bureau