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‘No point in sensationalising’

10 Mar

HINDUSTAN TIMES

Crime PatrolDastak, that airs twice a week in a late night slot, has not only completed over 52 weeks in the top 10 chart, but has also become the No 1 show this week. According to the ratings issued by TAM India, the official record keeper for TV viewing in the country, the two-part  episode aired on last Friday and Saturday on Sony Entertainment, showcasing the recent ‘Baby Falak’ case in Delhi and the associated human trafficking issue, scored 6.8 points, leaving popular dailies behind.

Host Anoop Soni gives credit to the show’s director Subramaniam and to the creative and research team that consciously cut down the graphic representation of crimes. “The ratings are overwhelming. But they also point out that we have an ever-increasing audience base, and have to be more cautious about the way we discuss a case study,” he says, adding, “There’s no point in sensationalising. The idea is to narrate a story in a humane manner and understand what leads to a particular crime and how it could have been averted.”

Anoop, who only shoots anchor links for the show, prefers to read the entire screenplay to connect with a story. He also reads newspapers and magazines thoroughly and passes on cases to the show’s two-member research team for consideration. “We can’t end crimes, but circumstances that lead to punishable offences can be changed,” says the actor-anchor, who remembers receiving great feedback for a series on female foeticide cases in India.   “There are thousands of cases we’d like to highlight alongside the role that cops play in cracking them. And trust me, there’s a large chunk of the audience that’s not tuning in for voyeuristic pleasure.”

Crime Patrol’s first season aired from May 2003 to March 2006, followed by season two that ran from January 2010 to June 2010. The third season started in September 2010 and ended in December 2010. The current season flagged off on April 29, 2011. Director Subramaniam, the brain and creative force behind the show, doesn’t know if this season will ever end.

“We’re trying to keep the show newsy. At the same time, we’re trying to keep the grossness levels low because we don’t want to show gruesome crimes too graphically,” he reasons. “We had thought we’d get a little break between these cases. But the good feedback won’t let us do that anytime soon.”

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Entertainment/Television/No-point-in-sensationalising/Article1-823269.aspx

Audit shock

18 May

PURNIMA S. TRIPATHI IN THE FRONTLINE

A social audit on the working of the ban on child labour in the domestic and hospitality sectors reveals a sorry state of affairs.

LIKE any normal child, Illyas from Varanasi, a 13-year-old, wanted to go to a regular school and become an important man some day. But poverty forced him to start working at an eatery for Rs.200 a day so that he could feed his younger siblings. He, however, continues his studies as well and is in class V. But his naive question stupefies all who hear it: “Shouldn’t the government help children like us to go to a school without working?”

Sanjay from Kursela, Bihar, has not been so lucky. Almost the same age as Illyas, he had to give up studies after class IV, when his father took ill, to take care of his three younger siblings. He earns Rs.900 a month, gets free food and supports his two younger brothers’ education.

Fifteen-year-old Nagaraju from Alware village, Nalgonda, Andhra Pradesh, works as a cleaner at a hotel for Rs.1,500 a month plus abuses and beatings. This poor boy supports the education of his elder sister, who has completed her intermediate and is planning to go for higher studies. His sister’s education, he hopes, will one day end his troubles.

Pooja, 13, from Lohanipur, Patna, cooks for a living and earns Rs.800 a month. Her three siblings work for food. She supports her mother, who turned mentally unstable after her husband abandoned her.

These heart-wrenching tales of real children were narrated at a public hearing on the working of the ban on child labour in the domestic sector and in the hospitality industry, which has been in force since October 2006. The public hearing, which was held in New Delhi on April 30, was the culmination of a nationwide social audit.

Looking at the sorry state of affairs in the country as far as child rights are concerned, one can see why there is an anguished cry for justice for children. The social audit, carried out by the Campaign Against Child Labour (CACL) and the Campaign Against Child Trafficking (CACT) in association with over 30 non-governmental organisations working for child rights, covered 12 States – Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Goa, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. It brought out a mind-boggling, countrywide tale of apathy, insensitivity and indifference.

Quoting official sources such as the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India, the social audit report puts the number of children employed in the domestic sector at 1.86 lakh and in the hospitality industry at 70, 934. In all, over 2.56 lakh children work in the domestic and hospitality sectors. Unofficial sources, however, put the figure at around 20 million.

Compared with the enormity of the problem, the response of the authorities to the social audit was poor, even hostile, the report says. This is evident from the figures given of the number of children rescued in various States since the ban came into effect. Andhra Pradesh, which was more forthcoming with information than other States, rescued five children in 2006, 97 in 2007, 242 in 2008 and 62 in 2009. Bihar, which gave the figures for 2008 and 2009 only, rescued 474 and 1,404 children respectively. Delhi, where roughly 50,000 child workers are engaged in these two sectors, four children were rescued in 2006, 91 in 2007, 33 in 2008, and no figures are available for 2009. In Jharkhand, only 12 children from domestic sector and 15 from the hotel industry have been rescued since 2006. Madhya Pradesh simply gave no information. It was discovered by those carrying out the audit that either the States did not have the information or they did not want to divulge it and, therefore, kept shunting the auditors from one department to another.

On the basis of the meagre information received from the States (only 10 out of 12 responded), the auditors figured out that out of a total of 5,096 children rescued since October 2006, only 3.04 per cent of the children were reported to be from the domestic sector and the rest were from dhabas and roadside eateries\hotels. The figures for the number of children rehabilitated are equally dismal. “This speaks volumes about the attention being paid to the problem by our law-enforcement agencies,” one of the auditors said.

The public hearing once again threw light on the stark realities of an apathetic society, a callous government machinery and toothless laws, which have resulted in the social malaise called child labour. This is rampant across the country, in homes and in innumerable eateries, dhabas and hotels, though such employment has been banned by law.

The jury at the public hearing comprised Syeda Hameed, Member, Planning Commission; R.K. Raghavan, former Director, Central Bureau of Investigation; Vimala Ramachandran, educationist; Ashok Arora, a senior advocate of the Supreme Court; and Arvind Kejriwal, Right to Information (RTI) activist and Magsaysay Award winner. Its unanimous verdict on the functioning of the ban on child labour in the domestic and hospitality sectors: “A failure.”

The public hearing was attended by eminent citizens, senior members from the media, senior government officials and child rights activists; 68 children were present, and 20 of them deposed before the jury. The jury noted: “It was clear that many children were forced into employment because of extremely adverse economic conditions at home. Some were orphans and some had only a single parent. The majority wanted to pursue education but had no option but to work to earn and support the rest of the family.… What was galling was the physical treatment meted out to some of them in a domestic environment. Those who perpetrated violence on the child workers included a software engineer and a banker. This indicates the gravity of the problem. Even those who are educated and are well employed are insensitive to child rights and the latter’s need to be treated with kindness and extreme care.”

With regard to the poor implementation of child rights laws, the jury observed: “The enforcement of existing laws has been tardy. For example, there are about 50,000 child workers in Delhi; only 23 of them are known to have been rescued. The need of the hour is to sensitise the enforcement machinery in order to make sure that the existing laws and provisions are well implemented in letter and spirit. At present, there is little accountability for implementation. The Ministry of Labour should devise means for bringing in this accountability.”

Stating that the existing laws on child rights were ineffective even in the rare circumstances when they were implemented, the jury noted that these could be made stringent so that they acted as a deterrent. It recommended making offences under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, cognisable and emphasised the need to sensitise the community at large on issues relating to child rights.

“Aren’t we all guilty? When we haggle with the autorickshaw driver and pay him Rs.2 less, or when we pay our maid a few hundred rupees less, aren’t we forcing them to send their children out for work?” asked Kejriwal. According to him, we are all directly or indirectly responsible for the current sorry state of children in India, and unless the attitude of society changes, child labour will continue to be prevalent. Added to this is the obfuscation of laws, which makes even existing provisions almost ineffective. “The law should be made more effective, offences under child labour laws should be made non-bailable, and the law-enforcing agencies should be made more accountable for their implementation,” he said.

The problem is compounded by the fact that there is little clarity about its real nature. Should it be treated as a labour issue or as a child rights and protection issue? “Child labourers are children in need of care and protection… but the Labour Ministry continues to deal with the issue of child labour by way of regulating it in some sectors and limiting its role to the rescue of children from hazardous sectors only, whereas the need of the hour is to address the problem in a holistic manner as an issue of children’s right to protection,” said Rajmangal Prasad, national convener, CACT. Moreover, he said, recognising the criminality of the offence would also lead to a shift in the attitude of the authorities and civil society at large, and that would happen only by making it a cognisable offence.

Another aspect that needs to be taken care of is the rehabilitation of children who are taken off work. “Most of the children employed in the domestic and hospitality sectors are there because of adverse financial conditions at home, so rehabilitation should be a key component of any programme aimed at such children,” said Rajmangal Prasad. The report says that rehabilitation programmes for children rescued from work are extremely inadequate, resulting in children falling back into the same trap after being rescued. The audit report cites the annual report of the Ministry of Labour, which itself says that under the National Child Labour Project (NCLP), catering to children rescued from hazardous sectors, the 9,000 schools being run for them have an enrolment of only 0.45 million children, and only 0.48 million have been mainstreamed since the NCLP was initiated in 1998. This gives rise to the big question: “Where is all the money being put into such programmes going? Who are the children benefiting from such projects?” The social auditors of the CACL and the CACT got no answer from the authorities, nor do government reports say anything about it.

“Revamping the existing child labour elimination programmes and investing adequately in new and holistic and need-based interventions is the need of the hour,” the audit report says.

But, as Kejriwal puts it, are we not all, as members of a responsible civil society, responsible for the sorry state of many such children? Unless the attitude of society as well as the law-enforcing agencies changes, nothing will change for these Illyases, Sanjays, Nagarajus and Poojas.

They slog and slave, yet get a pittance

5 May

They slog and slave, yet get a pittance

They slog and slave, yet get a pittance

MEERA RAMESH IN THE HINDU

We have a housemaid. She is less than 45 years of age. But she is already a grandmother. She would be barely reaching five feet at her highest and tipping the scale at maybe 50 kg. She lives in a single-room tenement on the fifth floor of one of the apartment complexes constructed by the previous governments with so much fanfare, but now sadly lacking in maintenance and is a source of worry for all the inhabitants as to when suddenly the whole structure might come down.

Lifts are unheard of in tenements, so she has to climb up and down the five flights of stairs at least three or four times a day. She was married once. But her husband turned out to be a great devotee of liquor shops, where he blew the family income. She left him. Her daughter and her granddaughter stay with her. Her son-in-law followed in his father-in-law’s footsteps and turned out to be another ardent devotee of liquor. She rises at 4.30 in the morning so that she can supply milk sachets to about 30 households. This is an everyday chore whether it rains or shines or she feels sick. Excuses could mean her losing a client and income. She manages to earn about Rs 1,500 a month on this enterprise. When she completes the delivery of milk, she will have some time to have her morning meal of rice soaked in water along with salt, chillies, onion and, maybe, coconut chutney. If she is lucky, she would have something a little more nutritious, depending on the generosity of the women in whose households she works.

She works in four households where she has to sweep and swab the floor, and wash dirty dishes and used clothes. In the mornings and quite often in the evenings too. It does not leave her with much time to eat in peace or rest. Or do any of her own chores. She manages to earn about Rs. 3,000 from these jobs as a maid. In the present day and age, a sum of Rs. 4,500 is not enough to make both ends meet. So irrespective of how tired she is, to supplement her income, she visits the wholesale market for flowers to supply households and make some extra cash.

She has no leave. No holidays. No medical benefits. No PF or gratuity. She ekes out a living as long as she has good health. But this woman brings comfort to four households and makes a qualitative difference to them. They are spick and span. They escape the drudgery of menial chores. They have time to do their own work. To be neat and tidy, and to enjoy themselves. All because of one overworked, underfed and underpaid woman! There are thousands and thousands of such persons bringing comfort and ease to millions of households. In the evenings, I watch the IPL matches with my husband. It is a battle between the ball and the bat. The ball is a white, round leather object. And the bat is a piece of wood with a handle. The wielders of the bat and the ball are paid humungous amounts of money. For a pursuit, an exercise which in no way has any qualitative impact on the lives of me or the other millions of households. Apart from being a spectacle, it has no relevance to or impact on our day-to-day life. My question is why a person like my maidservant, or an auto driver, a bus driver, conductor, and many others who bring comfort to us and make our lives so much easier get such meagre earnings. While a useless pursuit like throwing around a leather object or hitting the object with a wooden implement should be rewarded so exorbitantly. Mind you, if there is no IPL it would make no difference to our lives, But without the maid and the others I mentioned, life would be miserable. Is this injustice god-made or man-made? If it is god-made, then god has a weird sense of justice. If man-made, then it is time something is done about it. Is it any wonder that radical philosophies have so many takers?

http://beta.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/article419466.ece

Death by drought and more

26 Dec

ANJALI LAL GUPTA IN THE HINDU

In drought-hit Bundelkhand, corruption is not just a tired cliché from a bad Bollywood movie, it is a life-threatening human rights emergency.

Corruption exacerbates poverty in Bundelkhand…the money earmarked for NREGA is being cleverly pocketed by village council leaders and unscrupulous officials.

Sesame shoots in the fields of Bundelkhand make it seem there is no drought. But the crops are stunted and useless.

Bundelkhand, which comprises six districts in Madhya Pradesh and seven in Uttar Pradesh, has had a drought for seven years except the last one. At the peak of farming season this year, rains were half of normal.

In between Mahoba and Chhattarpur districts lies Khajuraho airport. Swanky roads and five-star hotels dot the tourist destination and belie the silent human catastrophe unfolding just kilometres away. Drought may have ravaged the fields but State apathy and the brazenly corrupt officials are more brutal.

Multitudes throng us in every village we visited. Willing to clutch at straws in their desperation, their voices would go: “Have you written about my mentally challenged son?”… “I applied for old age pension long back.” … “I have been anxiously waiting for my widow pension card.” “They haven’t paid my NREGA wages.”

Inaccessible healthcare

Eighty-five-year old Motiya, slumped on a cot, gives out a heartrending cry as we step into his dingy hut. His wife sleeps nearby. Both have had fever for four days. Motiya has bed sores and can barely move. Villagers say that often worms crawl out of his mouth. “The other day my father defecated in bed. I cleaned him up. Where is the money to get them medicines?” asks Motiya’s son Chaniya, a daily-wage labourer in Seelaun village of Chhattarpur. The government hospital is 25 km away, and rarely stocks medicines.

Cattle, abandoned on highways, and the old are among the causalities of this drought as families flee a disaster. In village after village, elders have in vain applied for pension that provides Rs. 275 a month. Often the local officials demand bribes from penniless petitioners. Also, families who own more than five acres of land are not classified as being Below Poverty Line or BPL. It does not bother the officials that the drought has rendered income from land inadequate.

Dalit woman Jhharokhan Paswan in Chandauli village of Mahoba could not complete the last rites of her husband who died of grinding hunger last year. “My blind husband died a slow painful death,” she says. A tattered sari covers her old body. Had the grain bank supported by ActionAid partner organisation Kriti Shodh Sansthan not given her 40 kg of wheat, she would have had to go on begging. Last month, she threw a dried-up chapatti on the district collector’s table. He promised to mark her as BPL. And she is still waiting.

Against the wall

Despair is all too common in Bundelkhand. Rani’s husband Priti Pal Singh jumped into a well in Chandauli three months back. Their three acre land had stopped yielding, and he couldn’t repay a loan of Rs. 80,000 he took for his daughter’s wedding. Rani has asked for a job but the sarpanch argues over how an upper caste woman can go to work! Though only slightly better-off, villagers have been generous enough to offer food. “I dread to think what will happen if they stop. Sometimes I too feel like jumping into the well,” her voice falters. Nights spent listening to her children crying out of hunger are still fresh in her memory.

Corruption exacerbates poverty in Bundelkhand. The running of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act or NREGA is an example. The scheme that promises 100 days’ work could have been a lifeline for rural families. But the money earmarked for it is being cleverly pocketed by formidable village council leaders and unscrupulous officials.

NREGA wages have not been paid to 200 people of Akauna village in Chhattarpur for eight months. Officials have yet to answer queries posed in March under the Right to Information Act on how many villagers got jobs in Akauna. Eighty villagers in Seelaun are yet to get remuneration. In village after village, inhabitants underline that those who are close to the panchayat leaders get NREGA work or a BPL tag.

Village council heads often refuse to accept written applications. Hence, little evidence remains of how many rural folk sought jobs and how many got them. The Afforestation Mega Campaign in Uttar Pradesh — a scheme worth Rs. 1582 million — was launched last year to boost the NREGA in drought-prone Bundelkhand. Mahoba was supposed to get 10 million saplings. “Only 40 per cent of the saplings have been sown, the rest are on paper,” reveals Manoj Kumar of Kriti Shodh Samsthan.

Six rivers have gone waterless in Mahoba. So, without food, water and jobs, people have no choice but to migrate to metropolises. Chhattarpur Collector E. Ramesh Kumar was quoted in The Hindudated September 5, “This is not distress migration.” He attributed the movement to seeking better opportunities.

“In Delhi we live in plastic huts next to roads. At times we fall from high rises doing construction work. Does that sound like a better opportunity?” asks Ramlal.

Ramesh Kumar, in a telephonic exchange, says he is only a few months old in Chhattarpur. And that “some shortcomings” perhaps do affect some villages.

Great divide

The distance between Bundelkhand’s poor and their political leaders is huge. Asked whether elected representatives have visited them ever since the polls, there are laughs all around in Chandauli.

Even as Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has said the country has enough food stored to prevent high inflation, hunger is widespread in Bundelkhand.

Those who are entitled to subsidised grains in Seelaun assert the full quota of 35 kg hardly ever reaches them. Numerous people across villages wryly confess that their meals consist of chapattis and salt. Bangle seller Ramesh Lakhera says, “I remember the taste of dal.” Lakhera’s earnings have plunged, and lentils cost a steep Rs. 90 per kg.

“Nearly 65 per cent of families are malnourished in 500 villages of Mahoba,” says Manoj Kumar.

In Banda district, 48 per cent of the children aged three or less are underfed. Government records reveal there are 130,000 malnourished children in Chhattarpur and 600 in Tikamgarh district. However grim these statistics may be, there’s more.

“We have discovered 40 undernourished children in Kandva village of Tikamgarh who have not been mentioned in anganwadi registers. Ten are severely malnourished,” says Narendra Sharma of ActionAid. Government-supported anganwadis supposedly provide nutritious food to toddlers and pregnant women.

In Mahoba, 165 anganwadis don’t function at all.

Denied rights

Rural families in Bundelkhand are routinely denied their right to health and life as they are often unable to access lifesaving treatment. The health system is seldom held to account. “Lately we rushed a young man bitten by a snake to the nearest health centre. They sent us away. He died on the way to a bigger hospital,” says Lallu Khan of Mahoba. Last year five children died of diarrhoea in Seelaun. Ramkali Ahirwar from Pratappura says bitterly, “We go to doctors when we are about to collapse. We die at home everyday.”

Asked whether the Uttar Pradesh government headed by a Dalit leader has made any difference to their lives, Phulia Rani, a Dalit woman in Chandauli, says “No.”

Meanwhile, the state website proudly announces “the historic decisions including increase in the budget for the welfare of Dalits and tribals by 41per cent”.

The author is a development journalist based in New Delhi and Hyderabad.

http://www.hindu.com/mag/2009/12/27/stories/2009122750130400.htm

HOME MINISTRY DIRECTIVE TO STATE POLICE DEPARTMENTS ON VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND HUMAN TRAFFICKING

20 Sep

The Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Shri Ajay Maken today said that the Government of India in close co-ordination with the various State and UT Governments had intensified measures against Human Trafficking and Crime against women. Shri Maken also informed that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) along with United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), will be organizing a workshop for training of trainers of all stake holders against Human Trafficking by the end of this year. The Conference will be inaugurated by the Home Minister, Shri P Chidambaram, he said. After this workshop, the MHA also intends to organize similar workshops for stake holders from SAARC countries in line with Government of India’s offer of conducting training programmes for Capacity building for implementation of the SAARC Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children, he elaborated.

In this regard the Ministry had convened a meeting of the Nodal Officers for Human Trafficking of various States and UTs on August 28, 2009 and had pushed forward the agenda of co-ordinated and intensive efforts against trafficking, Shri Maken informed.

While the meeting resolved to strengthen the respective Nodal Officers and Offices at the Centre and in the States, it also deliberated upon certain common operating procedures and practices, following which MHA has issued the following two advisories to the State Governments and UT administrations to issue suitable directions to all concerned to check crime against women and Human Trafficking;

Advisory regarding Measures needed to curb Crime against Women issued on September 4, 2009.

Advisory on Preventing and Combating Human Trafficking in India issued on September 9, 2009.

Main Points of advisory on checking crime against women

The advisory  has detailed measures that are needed to curb crime against this vulnerable section of the society.  The States and UTs have also been asked to convey the status on the measures to the Centre within a month. The Government of India have been advising the State Governments from time to time regarding the steps that need to be taken to afford a greater measure of protection to the women and in particular to prevent incidence of crimes against them.  Through the advisories, the State Governments were also requested to undertake a comprehensive review of the effectiveness of the machinery in tackling the problem of women and to take appropriate measures aimed at increasing the responsiveness of the law and order machinery.

Some State Governments, no doubt, have taken some measures in this regard. However, the inputs regarding crime against women available with this Ministry indicate that these measures need to be strengthened further. Despite several steps being taken by the State Governments, picture still is very grim and disappointing. Complaints are still being received regarding non-registration of FIRs and unsympathetic attitude of police personnel towards rape victims and victims of violence.

The National Commission for Women has been undertaking visits to various States to review the status of women and has been making available findings of their inquiry to the concerned State Governments as well as to the MHA.  The reports of the inquiries conducted by the Commission in specific incidents indicate that the level of sensitiveness and care with which crime against women should be handled is not up to the desired level.

The Government of India is deeply concerned with these trends and ground situation and has re-emphasized that urgent action should be taken on the following:-

  • Vigorously enforce the existing legislation relating to Crime against Women and Children, i.e.,  Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987 and Violence against Women (Prevention) Act, 2005, Section 67 of the IT Act, 2000, the display of lascivious photographs/films on computer through internet, etc.
  • Government must ensure proper enforcement of law and convictions in women related crimes.  Enforcement agencies should be instructed in unambiguous terms that enforcement of the rights of the weaker and vulnerable sections including women and children should not be downplayed for fear of further disturbances or retribution and adequate preparation should be made to face any such eventuality.
  • The administration and police should play a more proactive role in detection and investigation of crime against women and ensuring that there is no under reporting.
  • Increasing the overall representation of women in police forces.  The representation of women in police at all levels should be increased through affirmative action so that they constitute about 33% of the police.
  • Sensitizing the law enforcement machinery towards crime against women by way of well structured training programmes, meetings and seminars etc., for police personnel at all levels as well as other functionaries of the criminal justice system.
  • Government must take concrete steps to increase awareness in the administration and among the police in particular, regarding crime against women, and take steps not only to tackle such crimes but also deal sensitively with the ensuing trauma.

For improving general awareness on legislations, mechanisms in place for safety and protection of women, the concerned department of the State Government must, inter-alia, take following steps:

  1. Create awareness through print and electronic media;
  2. Develop a community monitoring system to check cases of violence, abuse and exploitation and take necessary steps to curb the same;
  3. Involving the Community at large in creating and spreading such awareness; and
  4. Organize legal literacy and legal awareness camps.
  5. Explore the possibility of associating NGOs working in the area of combating crime against women. Citizens groups and NGOs should be encouraged to increase awareness about gender issues in society and help bring to light violence against women and also assist the police in the investigation of crime against women.  Close coordination between the police and the NGOs dealing with the interests of women may be ensured.
  6. There should be no delay whatsoever in registration of FIR in all cases of crime against women.
  7. All out efforts should be made to apprehend all the accused named in the FIR   immediately so as to generate confidence in the victims and their family members;
  8. Cases should be thoroughly investigated and charge sheets against the accused persons should be filed within three months from the date of occurrence, without compromising on the quality of investigation.   Speedy investigation should be conducted in heinous crimes like rape. The medical examination of rape victims should be conducted without delay.
  9. Ensure proper supervisions at appropriate level of cases of crime against women from the recording of FIR to the disposal of the case by the competent court.
  10. Help-line numbers of the crime against women cells – should be exhibited prominently in hospitals/schools/colleges premises, and in other suitable places.
  11. Set up exclusive ‘Crime Against Women and Children’ desk in each police station and the Special Women police cells in the police stations and all women police thana as needed.
  12. Concerned departments of the State Governments could handle rape victims at all stages from filing a complaint in a police station to undergoing forensic examination and in providing all possible assistance including counseling, legal assistance and rehabilitation.  Preferably these victims may be handled by women so as to provide a certain comfort level to the rape victims.
  13. The specialized Sexual Assault Treatment Units could be developed in government hospitals having a large maternity section.
  14. The Health department of the State Govts., should set up ‘Rape Crisis Centres’  (RCCs) and specialized ‘Sexual Assault Treatment Units’ (SATUs), at appropriate places. RCCs could act as an interface between the victims and other agencies involved.
  15. The administration should also focus on rehabilitation of the victims and provide all required support.  The police should consider empanelling professional counselors and the counseling should not be done by the police.
  16. For improving the safety conditions on road, the concerned departments of the State Government must take suitable steps to:
  17. Increase the number of  beat constables, especially on the sensitive roads;
  18. Increase the number of police help booth/kiosks, especially in remote and lonely stretches;
  19. Increase police patrolling, especially during the night;
  20. Increase the number of women police officers in the mobile police vans;
  21. Set-up telephone booths for easy access to police;
  22. Install people friendly street lights on all roads, lonely stretches and alleys; and
  23. Ensure street lights are properly and efficiently working on all roads, lonely stretches and alleys.
  24. The local police should arrange for patrolling in the affected areas and more especially in the locality of the weaker sections of the society.  Periodic visits by DM & SP will create a sense of safety and security among these sections of the people.
  25. Special steps to be taken for security of women working in night shifts of call centers.
  26. Crime prone areas should be identified and a mechanism be put in place to monitor infractions in schools/colleges for ensuring safety and security of female students. Women police officers in adequate number fully equipped with policing infrastructure may be posted in such areas.
  27. Action should be taken at the State level to set up of Fast Track Courts and Family Courts.
  28. Dowry related cases must be adjudicated expeditiously to avoid further harassment of the women.
  29. Appointment Dowry Prohibition Officers and notify the Rules under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.
  30. All police stations may be advised to display the name and other details of Protection Officers of the area appointed under the Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
  31. Police personnel should be trained adequately in special laws dealing with atrocities against women. Enforcement aspect should be emphasized adequately so as to streamline it.
  32. Special steps may also be taken by the police in collaboration with the Health and Family Welfare Department of the State to prevent female foeticide.
  33. Special steps should also be taken to curb the ‘Violation of Women’s Rights by so called Honour Killings, to prevent forced marriage in some northern States, and other forms of Violence’.
  34. Ensure follow up of reports of cases of atrocities against women received from various sources, including NCW & SCW, with concerned authorities in the State Governments.

The advisories issued by MHA, inter-alia, include gender sensitization of the police personnel, adopting appropriate measures for swift and salutary punishment to public servants found guilty of custodial violence against women, minimizing delays in investigations of murder, rape and torture of women and improving its quality, setting up a ‘crime against women cell’ in districts where they do not exist, providing adequate counseling centers and shelter homes for women who have been victimized etc.

Main points of advisory on preventing and combating human trafficking in India

The key points include implementation of legal provisions in the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act 1956; Juvenile Justice Act 2000; Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006; capacity building of the State machinery; prevention of trafficking; investigation and prosecution and rescue and rehabilitation measures. The states and UTs have also been asked to convey to the Centre the present status within one month. The key points have been worked out in collaboration with the related Ministries of Women & Child Development, Labour & Employment and Health & Family Welfare.

To facilitate matters in this regard, MHA has already established an Anti Trafficking Cell (ATC) which deals with the following major subject matters:

  • All matters pertaining to the criminal aspect of trafficking in human beings especially of women and children, which is the fastest growing organized crime and an area of concern.
  • To act as the Nodal cell for dealing with the criminal aspect of Human Trafficking in India, hold regular meetings of all States and UTs, communicating various decisions and follow up on action taken by the State Governments.
  • To interface with other Ministries like Women & Child Development, Social Justice &Empowerment, External Affairs, Overseas Indian Affairs, Labour & Employment, Law, and NCRB regarding the criminal aspect of human trafficking.

The Anti Trafficking Nodal Cell of MHA has developed an MIS proforma for the monitoring of the action taken by various State Governments regarding the criminal aspect of human trafficking as well as crime against women.  The State Governments are required to send quarterly information.

http://pib.nic.in/release/release.asp?relid=52750&kwd=

Girls rescued from the hand of flesh trader in Sikkim

16 Sep

16 Sep 2009:

Voice of Sikkim:

Man named Vidur Rai who was possessing the girls was arrested here at Gangtok as said by SP East Mr. Tuli. Human Trafficking in North East is increasing day by day in lieu offering teens handsome amount of Rs 50,000 to Rs 60,000. The traders usually give a promise to deploy victim in a good salaried job at Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore like other cities but they finally push innocents into a flesh trade business.

The shocking incident occured when a seven girls were rescued from Syari and Tadong at capital from hand of such intruder.  However some more rackets can be exposed if Sikkim Police takes the Human Trafficking matter seriously and perfoms some sting operations in the capital town Gangtok, local people says.

http://voiceofsikkim.com/2009/09/15/girls-rescued-from-the-hand-of-flesh-trader-in-sikkim/

MEDIA COALITION AND SHAKTI VAHINI EXPRESS THE GRAVE CONCERN OF INCREASING NEW TREND OF SIKKIMESE GIRLS BEING TRAFFICKED. THE GOVERNMENT OF SIKKIM HAS TO TAKE IMMEDIATE  STEPS TO MONITOR ALL THE EXIT ROUTES OF SIKKIM FOR TRAFFICKING. IF  TRAFFICKING CONTINUES UNABATED AND THE GOVERNMENT REMAINS SILENT AS A SPECTATOR VERY SOON THE DEMAND OF GIRLS FROM SIKKIM AND NORTH EAST WILL INCREASE AND THIS MAY EMERGE AS A REPLACEMENT OF NEPALI GIRLS WHO HAVE BEEN TRAFFICKED TO INDIA FOR MANY YEARS.

EVEN THE HOME MINISTRY HAS TO TAKE URGENT STEPS TO STOP THIS TRAFFIC.

THIS NEWS COMES JUST TWO DAYS AFTER A SIKKIM GIRL WAS RESCUED BY VIGILANT POLICE MAN FROM THE RED LIGHT AREA OF DELHI.

Sikkim teenager rescued, 1 held

16 Sep

Ambika Pandit, TNN 16 September 2009, 09:26am IST

NEW DELHI: Shikha (name changed) is barely 13, but her experiences over the last fortnight have added years to her age. The Sikkim teenager, a victim of trafficking, was rescued from a street off G B Road on Monday. The authorities in Sikkim, meanwhile, were quick to apprehend the alleged trafficker from New Jalpaiguri station in West Bengal.

Shikhas ordeal began when her parents agreed to send her to the capital with one Chandra Maya Rai who allegedly assured them that the child would find employment as a domestic help.

The young girl was allegedly brought to Delhi on September 7 and was provided employment through a placement agency in a house near Munirka.

A week later, Shikha was spotted by a beat constable on a road leading to Delhis largest red light area. He became suspicious when he found the girl weeping as she crouched in a corner with her belongings . Shikha was taken to the Kamla Market police station and inquiries revealed that the child was working as a domestic help in a house in Munirka where she was made to clean the house and wash utensils. The girl revealed that she was also slapped by her employers, revealed Rishikant from NGO Shakti Vahini, which is handling the case.

Speaking to Times City, Shikha said she did not like the place where she was made to work and asked Rai to take her back home. At this Rai threatened to sell her off for Rs 25 lakh, Shikha alleged. The traumatised teenager claimed that on Monday when the lady who she worked for went to take a bath, she escaped and took a bus to the station. However, it was not clear how she landed near G B Road.

Rishikant said senior officials swung into action as soon as the incident was reported. It was around 11.30pm that the matter came to light. The girl was shifted to Sikkim House and authorities in Sikkim were intimated. The parents of the girl were located and it came to light that Rai was on her way by train to Sikkim, senior officials said. She was apprehended by the authorities soon after the train reached New Jalpaiguri.

Meanwhile, Shikha was produced before the Child Welfare Committee in Mayur Vihar and handed over to the Sikkim authorities. The child will now be sent back to her parents. To ensure that Shikha does not find herself again in a trafficking chain, the CWC issued directions to the state authorities to keep a vigil for one year on the childs movements.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/news/city/delhi/Sikkim-teenager-rescued-1-held/articleshow/5016846.cms

Invisible work

22 Jul

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI IN THE FRONTLINE

The International Labour Organisation fears that the global recession may push up the number of child workers.

RUPAK DE CHOWDHURI /REUTERS

A child labourer near Siliguri, West Bengal, on June 12. It is estimated that there are around 100 million girls involved in child labour across the world.

IN 1999, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) adopted the Convention on the Worst Forms of Labour. One aspect of the convention dealt with the special situation of girls. It is estimated that there are around 100 million girls involved in child labour. In view of the impact of the global recession on labour in general, and fearing that the economic slowdown might erode the progress made in the eradication of child labour in particular, the ILO decided to make the girl child the theme of the World Day against Child Labour in 2009. Its report is titled “Give Girls A Chance: Tackling child labour, a key to the future”. It recognises that despite a ban on child labour in many countries, it continues to flourish in the informal sector. It says that effective labour inspection is vital.

There is nothing new in what is suggested in the report in terms of the differential impact felt by girls as compared with boys in the distribution of household chores and in access to education. What is worrying, however, is the observation that the continuation of the financial crisis may worsen the child labour situation as a whole. “As the crisis deepens, young girls could well be among the main victims,” the foreword to the report says. As remittances decline nationally and internationally, a serious knock-out effect may be experienced in the poorer regions, the report says. It is also predicted that governments may make budget cuts in the social sector, especially in education, which will lead to more children dropping out of school and entering the workforce.

The remedy, according to the ILO report, lies in education, which is the most important area for policy initiatives. But this in itself will not be enough to prevent girl children from entering the labour market. The problem areas are threefold. First, there is the sheer number of girls engaged in child labour; second, much of their work remains invisible and hidden; and third, more than half, that is, 53 million, of the 100 million girls engaged in child labour do hazardous work. Of the 53 million, 23 million are not yet 12.

It is clear that the solution lies not just in free and quality education or in raising the minimum age for employment. More and more people are bound to get affected by the global economic situation and also by the lack of policy measures, safety nets and interventions by governments. While developed nations might resort to protectionist policies to safeguard their own interests, developing countries may see a greater shortfall in expenditure in crucial sectors, including the social sector. As the pressure to supplement family incomes goes up, child labour is bound to increase. Unless governments take measures for employment generation, child labour is not likely to disappear. At present, the situation does not look hopeful with layoffs, closures and wage cuts becoming the norm rather than the exception.

For the Indian reader, the report may hold some special interest. The first chapter begins with a box item narrating the work experiences of 15-year-old Jyotsna, who works in a salt pan in western India. Sections within this chapter deal with inequalities of opportunities, including in education. Quoting a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) report, the chapter says that of the 16 per cent of the world’s population that is unable to read or write, two or three of every 10 persons are women. However, it needs to be investigated whether illiteracy is a factor contributing to poverty or if it is an outcome of poverty.

Like the cycle of malnutrition, illiteracy can also be a cause and an outcome of poverty. The visibility of the work done by women and girl children is no longer an issue. The problem is that it is very much open and to a large extent has social, if not legal, sanction. Employers exploit the availability of cheap labour and a pliable workforce, which, on the other hand, has no security of employment or legislative protection and faces arbitrary retrenchments, abuse, and other forms of exploitation.

The social profile of these working young girls is that they are poor and belong to hitherto socially excluded groups. To analyse the gender gap, the ILO collected data from 16 countries, mostly developing nations, between 1999 and 2007. The majority of the girls were found to be employed in agriculture: 61 per cent of the economically active girls between five and 14 years were found working in this sector. As they grew older, the services sector seemed to be absorbing more of them compared with industry. The percentage of girls working in agriculture in the 15-17 age group was 49 per cent. The next highest proportion of girls was found working in the services sector, followed by industry. This was found true for boys as well.

The report says that domestic work constitutes one of the worst forms of child labour found in many countries. The “hidden” nature of the work makes for greater exploitation than in other sectors. As expected, there are more little girls to be found in this workforce than little boys. More than 35 per cent of working boys and girls under 15, the report says, put in more than 21 hours a week.

It is a known fact that in many homes in India, including the capital, Delhi, children employed as domestic servants put in more than 21 hours a week in return for three meals a day, lodging and a meagre salary. They are expected to do all the menial chores, including going out to buy groceries. They are not only deprived of an education but have no leisure at all.

T. VIJAYA KUMAR

A domestic help in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh. The ILO report says that domestic work constitutes one of the worst forms of child labour and that its “hidden” nature makes for greater exploitation than in other sectors.

However, there seems to be more money in domestic work compared with employment as farmhands or in factories. For instance, Saroj, who works for an upper middle class home in Delhi, gets Rs.3,500 for cooking food for a family of four, dusting, and making tea for the grandmother, and her employer pays for her lunch. She puts in eight hours of work every day. In her previous employment with a factory assembling electronic parts, she got Rs.1,200 for 12 hours of work.

Saroj also does all the work in her own home before leaving, and cooks dinner for her family of four after she comes home. All this, of course, is unpaid labour. Though she does not like selling her labour as a domestic help, she knows this is the best deal she can get. She sees nothing wrong with young girls being employed in domestic work. The report says that domestic work is a protected type of work for girls who may otherwise have few employment opportunities.

These are all the known aspects of child labour and work by women in general. For the first time, the report has looked at the uncalculated costs of household work done by girl children in their own homes, a kind of work that is not counted as child labour. However, if a boy helped his father in agricultural work, he would be considered as economically active and included as part of an official statistic. The report insists that the work done by little girls in their own homes should also be considered as economically active work since it would be counted among “services” if it were done outside the household.

It is a narrow definition which recognises only work pertaining to economic activities as “work”. The report says that this does not capture a number of important forms of non-economic work. The number of girls engaged in household services increases as they grow older. In terms of the number of working hours, girls work more than boys. There is unquestionably a gender dimension here, which policymakers need to think about. The solution may lie partly in getting girls and boys in school, but that is not the entire solution.

The report says that countries should review the situation of child labour in agriculture and set up mechanisms to monitor and enforce child labour legislation in rural areas. One of the assumptions in the report is that the rights of child domestic workers are not systematically infringed everywhere. That may not be correct. Recent experience of organising domestic workers has shown that in the absence of any recognised legal rights, the scope for exploitation has only worsened in recent times. Child domestic workers would definitely be more vulnerable.

The report acknowledges that for many children, moving to a household where they are “expected” to help out is not a positive experience. There are many studies investigating the vulnerable situation of domestic workers, and the problems include verbal, physical and sexual abuse. According to the Indonesian Association of Domestic Worker Suppliers, the biggest demand from employers was for children between 13 and 16. The association adopted a policy of not supplying children in that age group. Perhaps similar strategies should be designed by such associations in other countries as well.

The solution to the problem lies not just in creating mechanisms to ensure that child labour is not exploitative but in ensuring the effective elimination of child labour by addressing the factors that generate such labour. As long as there is supply, there will be demand. Codes of conduct by themselves will have only a cosmetic effect in the absence of a political and administrative will. The report goes on to elaborate on the various vulnerable areas where girl children are employed, which include commercial sex, the armed forces and manufacturing jobs. In fact, the report recognises that material and economic causes are involved when children get associated with the armed forces.

Governments, says the report, need to take the lead in tackling child labour. It definitely cannot be left to non-governmental organisations alone, however well-meaning they may be. •

http://www.frontline.in/stories/20090731261508100.htm

Kilns of bondage

3 Jul

S. DORAIRAJ

In The FRONTLINE JULY 2009

An ILO report on the exploitation of brick kiln workers in Tamil Nadu pushes the State government into action to end the practice of “debt bondage”.

A. MURALITHARAN

At Reddypalayam village near Chengalpattu in Kancheepuram district. Brick workers live in thatched huts close to the kiln.

IN the brick kilns of Tamil Nadu, life for lakhs of men, women and children is one of extreme exploitation. Every brick they make has a story to tell – of dismal working conditions, back-breaking toil for 12 to 16 hours a day, meagre wages and generations of bonded labour.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has put these narratives in perspective in its report “Forced Labour: Facts and Figures/The Cost of Coercion-Regional Perspectives” released on May 11. About the situation in Tamil Nadu’s brick industry, it says: “[B]onded labourers, and sometimes their families, lose their freedom to choose employment through a system of loans or advance payments for work.”

Most of these workers are from families that have for generations toiled in brick units in different parts of the State and are not aware of their rights or the welfare measures the State and Central governments offer them. The vicious cycle of debt begins when the rural farmhand migrates to a distant place and finds work in a brick kiln through middlemen known as “maistries”. He accepts an advance amount offered by the kiln owner not realising that in the process he was trading away his freedom. By the time he does it is too late, as he is tied to the kiln in perpetual bondage. Incidentally, the maistries, who are part of the workforce, play an important role in the disbursement of the advances and weekly wages to the workers.

In response to the ILO report, the departments concerned of the State government and the Centre and six Central trade unions have initiated action to end the “debt bondage” of brick kiln workers. To begin with, the focus is on Kattangolathur block in Kancheepuram district, where 12,000 kiln workers and their families are being made aware of their rights, their children are being sent to school and they are being given the benefits of welfare schemes.

LACK OF DATA

In the absence of any comprehensive official data on the number of brick kilns and the workers they employ, analysts depend on surveys conducted by private agencies or non-governmental organisations (NGOs). According to informed sources, in Tamil Nadu there are around 2,000 brick kilns – both registered and unregistered – in the big and medium categories, apart from thousands of units making country bricks in the tiny sector.

Dalits and members of the Scheduled Tribes constitute around 90 per cent of the workers and the remaining 10 per cent belong to the Backward Classes or the Most Backward Classes. Tiruvallur and Kancheepuram districts have a high concentration of brick workers, including child workers. They go there from Dharmapuri, Namakkal, Krishnagiri, Villupuram, Cuddalore, Tiruvannamalai, Madurai, Virudhunagar and Tirunelveli districts every year during the season, which lasts from January to July.

A. Mahaboob Batcha, managing trustee of the Society for Community Organisation (SOCO) Trust, blamed the agrarian crisis and industrial backwardness for the large-scale migration of people from the southern districts in search of work. The trend could not be reversed without proper planning and implementation of job schemes for the rural poor, particularly farm workers, he said.

The most important factor that makes the workers and their children vulnerable to bondage is the advance paid to migrant workers, who then pledge their labour to the owners of kilns. It is a common practice in the industry and the amount ranges from Rs.5,000 to Rs.40,000.

Both employers and workers believe that the advance system fosters “mutual trust”. But experts point out that it not only makes workers vulnerable to bondage but also pushes them into the quagmire of perpetual indebtedness. An ILO-funded study conducted by an Indo-French research team of the French Institute of Pondicherry in 2003-04 dubs the system a “vicious circle” and says that “the characteristics of the production process (a continuous and cyclic process, highly intensive in terms of labour force) explain in large part the need for this advance system”. Importantly, it enables the kiln owners to employ migrants, who cannot leave the kilns until they have repaid the advance fully. The workers are given the advance not only before they are recruited but also during the off season to ensure that they continue in the same kiln in the next season.

Unionisation of brick kiln workers at the local level, thanks to the intervention of the NGO ‘Sarpam’ Irular Thozhilalar Sangam, helped release brick workers from bondage at Palavansathu village in Vellore taluk and at a few villages in Arcot taluk in Vellore district during the past three years. However, some of them were yet to be compensated fully, said I. Jeyabalan, leader of the union.

The piece-rate remuneration is not commensurate with the hard work that the skilled workers put in during the seven stages of the brick-making process, said trade union sources. The seven stages include heaping, gathering and mixing of clay soil; moulding of bricks; edge cutting; transporting the dried bricks to the baking yard; and baking the bricks.

HARASSMENT

Apart from low wages and curtailed mobility, the workers, both men and women, are subjected to harassment in various ways, alleged trade union activists. Most of the workers were reluctant to narrate their tales of woe fearing the brick kiln owners and the maistries.

P. Selvi, one of the 15 bonded labourers at Palavansathu village released from a brick kiln in Vellore district in March 2006, said she, along with her son P. Kumaran, was detained at a house in the village for 29 days on the grounds that she tried to flee the workplace without repaying the advance she had taken. The house was locked and even for attending nature’s call they had to be at the mercy of the watchman who had the key.

K. Gopi of Mandhangal village was among a set of bonded workers of the Irular tribe to be freed at Oothukottai taluk in Tiruvallur district in February 2008. He said they had to face the wrath of the kiln owners for seeking their help to trace the missing eight-year-old daughter of a worker.

According to M. Nagarajan, president of the Sengal Aruvai Thozhilalar Munnetra Sangam at Paramakudi in Ramanathapuram district, at some places, including Achangulam village in the district, intolerant employers would belabour workers with sticks if they committed any act of indiscipline. Abuses were heaped on women workers. Such punishments were awarded to frighten other workers, he said. In some cases, the workers who had received “excess advance amount” were kept under lock and key at night, he alleged.

Though some employers claimed that the workers were not forced to toil for long hours, interaction with workers and union activists revealed that in most of the brick chambers work started at around 3 p.m. and went on up to 7 p.m. After a break of six hours, work resumed at 1 a.m. and went on until 10.30 a.m. The bricks need maximum time of exposure to the sun to render them dried. Thus, the workers have to catch up with their sleep only during the day and this is a routine for the brick-moulding community. These cycles of work interfere with the normal development of the children.

In one of the worst instances of harassment, N. Rangasamy, 50, belonging to the Irular tribe of Siruvalai village in Villupuram district, was beaten up and chained by the employer of a brick unit because his daughter and son-in-law had abruptly stopped working in his kiln in January 2003. The employer was arrested under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (prevention of atrocities) Act, 1989, and various sections of the Indian Penal Code, thanks to the intervention of the Pazhangudi Irular Padhukappu Sangam (PIPS).

PLIGHT OF CHILDREN

D. GOPALAKRISHNAN

Labourers of a brick kiln in Vellore district freed from bondage on the initiative of the government.

A distressing aspect of the brick workers’ story is the plight of the children. According to a study conducted in 2005 by two NGOs, ‘Pasumai Trust’ of Tiruvallur and the Chennai-based People’s Forum for Human Rights, over one lakh children in the six to 18 age group were employed in brick kilns in the State. Of them, 60,000 were in the six to 14 age group and they worked along with their parents.

Though some political activists and official sources dub these data “exaggerated”, NGO functionaries and experts concur that almost 80 per cent of the children of the migrant workers do not go to school and many of them help their parents in the work, performing tasks such as arranging the bricks for drying and collecting the broken and improperly moulded bricks. Several others, particularly girls, do babysitting at shelters.

“As the work is clearly given to the families, children have a great propensity towards getting involved in the work to supplement parents’ income. This is not done owing to the pressure of the employers but the system operates in such a manner that children become natural partners in the process of brick production,” says a study titled Rapid Appraisal of Vulnerability of Workers to Bondage Situations in Brick Kiln Sector in Tamil Nadu-2008. It was undertaken by PRAXIS (Institute for Participatory Practices) India in Tiruvallur and Kancheepuram districts last year.

Dr C.S. Rex Sargunam, president of the Tamil Nadu Health Development Association and former Director of the Institute of Child Health, said the children of migrant workers were prone to a range of illnesses, including allergic bronchitis and skin allergy, as they were exposed to heat and dust. Water-borne diseases such as dysentery and jaundice may also be prevalent if there was the risk of contamination of water. The malnourished children of brick workers were susceptible to anaemia and vitamin deficiencies, he said. Setting up noon-meal centres and balwadis near the place of work could go a long way in alleviating some of these health problems, he added.

“PAIRS” SYSTEM AT WORK

A. MURALITHARAN

Workers at the kiln load bricks on to lorries at Reddypalayam.

Highlighting the travails of brick workers in the brick industry, Malathi Chittibabu, State secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), referred to the unique system adopted by kiln owners of offering jobs and advance payment only to “pairs” and not to individual workers. In some areas, this resulted in the early marriage of girls, she said.

PRAXIS in its rapid appraisal observed that girls got married “as early as 12 years onwards and boys get married as early as 16 years onwards”. It stated: “Early marriages are related to the work environment that needs pairs of workers to work in tandem. To access work opportunities, boys and girls get married at an early age. In most families, the indebtedness to local moneylenders and advances from employers has been transferred to the young generation in case the parents get sick and are unable to work, and such pressure leads to marriage and work in similar establishments. Insecurity of unmarried girls to work in such establishments is another reason for the girls to opt for early marriages.” However, there is a view among the workers that early marriages are no longer prevalent now.

Pon. Kumar, Chairman of the Tamil Nadu Construction Welfare Board, admitted that bonded labour and child labour were prevalent in brick manufacturing units in the State. He promised to initiate measures to ensure that these illegal systems were eliminated, that the children were sent to balwadis or schools according to their age and that statutory benefits such as Employees State Insurance (ESI), Provident Fund (PF) and accident relief were extended to the workers after enrolling them as members of the welfare board. He added that steps would be taken to implement a scheme to provide assistance to the workers, through the kiln owners, during the off season.

K. Murthy, State adviser of the Tamil Nadu Socialist Unorganised Workers Union, sought urgent measures to implement the State government’s order – G.O. MS.75, 2005 – enabling migrant workers to receive essential articles, including rice, under the public distribution system (PDS) by using their ration cards. The “non-implementation” of the order came in the way of migrant workers making use of the Re.1-a-kg-rice scheme, he said.

According to him, in Tiruvallur district alone around 25,000 children work in brick kilns. Lack of balwadis near the work spot resulted in the older children becoming babysitters, he claimed. Workers lived in 6’ x 8’ rooms in unventilated thatched huts, without toilets, put up near the workplace. The workers in general and women in particular faced problems owing to the lack of adequate health facilities near the brick chambers, Murthy said.

OWNERS’ DEFENCE

But kiln owners project a rosy picture. According to K. Manoharan, secretary of the Chengalpattu Area Brick Manufacturers’ Association, bonded labour and child labour are absent in the sector. Admitting that migrant labourers were employed in the brick industry in Kancheepuram district, he said almost 80 per cent of the workers employed in his kiln belonged to Tirunelveli district and the remaining 20 per cent were from the adjacent Villupuram district.

He claimed that the owners by and large were transparent in providing the advance money to workers and in the weekly payment of wages for work done on a piece-rate basis. He called for urgent steps by the government to remove the anomalies in the payment of wages and the duration of the season in different parts of the State. The association, along with the ILO and government agencies, was doing its best to persuade workers to send their children to school, he said.

M. Nagarajan demanded a reasonable revision of the minimum wage from the present Rs.221.78 for harvesting 1,000 chamber bricks and Rs.166.41 for 1,000 country bricks. He alleged that there was a “deliberate deduction” in the number of bricks produced, at the rate of 70 bricks for 1,000 bricks, on the grounds of compensating for faulty bricks. The employers, who insured the products, should not penalise workers for damages to bricks because of rain or other factors, he said.

GOVERNMENT SUPPORT

A. MURALITHARAN

Elementary lessons for children of workers at the Reddypalayam brick kiln complex.

Meanwhile, Principal Secretary (Labour and Employment) T. Prabhakara Rao said the State government would extend all support, including provision of manpower, to the project initiated by the ILO to ensure brick workers’ welfare. Poverty alleviation programmes and income-generating projects would be extended to these migrant workers, he added.

Referring to the awareness programme launched recently by the government in this regard, he sought the cooperation of all the stakeholders, including representatives of trade unions and employers’ federations, to make it a success.

The inadequacy of the government’s measures so far can be gauged from the fact that only 1,202 members of the seven Brick Workers’ Cooperative Societies under the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Department have benefited. The paid-up share capital of these societies was Rs.8.08 lakh, including the government’s share of Rs.2.25 lakh, trade union sources said. These societies were formed with the main objective of providing continuous and gainful employment to brick workers.

ILO INITIATIVE

A. MURALITHARAN

A poster announcing the ILO-State government joint initiative to improve the conditions of brick kiln workers.

It was against this backdrop that the ILO took the initiative to improve the lot of the brick kiln workers. It identified 12,000 workers employed in Kattangolathur block to implement a three-pronged strategy of creating awareness on labour rights, implementing welfare schemes to help them and their families to come out of poverty, and ensuring that their children were sent to school, said Maria Sathya R., national programme manager of the ILO’s “Decent Work for All”.

Supporting it in this endeavour are the State and Central governments and the joint action forum of Central trade unions, including the CITU, the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), the Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), and the Labour Progressive Federation (LPF). Among the stakeholders were the district administration and the employers’ associations, she added.

The initiative would explore the possibility of replacing the present advance payment system with new transparent systems of recruitment and payment of uniform wages. Workplace improvement was another focus area. The workers would be trained and organised in unions so that they gain knowledge in holding negotiations with employers and arriving at settlements on their demands. Apart from enrolling them with the Tamil Nadu Construction Workers Welfare Board, they would be covered under the Life Insurance Corporation of India’s Janashree Bima Yojana scheme and steps would be taken to enable them to get jobs under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) when they return to their villages during the off season.

A survey conducted by the ILO in Kattangolathur block last year led to the re-enrolment of 174 out-of-school children in regular schools. Besides, 948 children were sent to 39 tuition centres at the workplaces. The honorarium for the teacher-volunteer at these centres, at the rate of Rs.2,000 per person, is borne by the employers. Apart from this, the government runs 20 summer education centres under the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) for three months at the workplaces. This year, a total of 460 children are attending the classes at the venues, where the noon meal is provided by the employers’ association and the cost of study materials and payment for SSA volunteers’ training is met by the ILO and the government. As and when these children returned to their villages, they would be enrolled in regular schools, Maria Sathya said.

T.R.S. Mani, State secretary of the AITUC, is not sure about the success of the ILO initiative. He said: “Though the trade unions have taken the plunge, along with the ILO and the government agencies, it remains to be seen what impact the programme has on the lives of thousands of migrant brick workers.”

http://www.frontline.in/stories/20090717261408500.htm

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