By Prayas That shining India has dark spots is well known. One such dark spot was recently uncovered in a gruesome story of rape and bondage that unfolded at a construction site in Surat. Leela (name changed) is a tribal woman 22 years old, married wit …

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By Prayas

That shining India has dark spots is well known. One such dark spot was recently uncovered in a gruesome story of rape and bondage that unfolded at a construction site in Surat.

Leela (name changed) is a tribal woman 22 years old, married with a daughter 1.5 years old . She came to work at a worksite in Surat along with a group of workers from her village in District Alirajpur, MP.

The group was brought to the work site by Parsingh s/o , Nathia a labour contractor from her village. The site was a water tank being constructed by the Surat Municipal Corporation. The workers stayed at the site in makeshift habitation as is the norm with construction sites all over India.

Nearly 10 days after she reached the site, Leela was raped by the contractor Parsing at knife point. The incident happened in night while her husband was away working at the site. After this, rape became routine. Parsingh would send the husband to work on the night shift and force himself on her every other night. He threatened that if she did not cooperate, he will order his men to push his husband from top of the tank where he would be working.

During this period the contractor only paid some survival allowance so they had no extra money to be able to leave the site. But when her daughter fell ill, they managed to take some advance and leave for the village.

However Darsingh followed her up at the village. He would wait for her at the fields with a gun giving open threats. He offered to pay Leela’s husband Rs. 5 lakhs and make Leela his third wife. Apparently tribal traditions allow multiple marriages. Pushed to the extreme, the couple decided to lay the matter before the village elders.

At the panchayat, Darsingh turned brazen. The village elders, after listening to the matter, expressed their hopelessness. They said that the matter is beyond their reach. They advised the couple to go to the police. This the couple did. However there was no relief. Police said that the matter has to be taken up by the Surat police as the rape took place there. The couple even wrote to the District Police Chief, but there was no action.

The family was then advised by Kishen, a fellow tribal worker who had been rescued from bondage at an agriculture farm in Gujarat by Majdoor Adhikar Manch, a Union of workers in the unorganised sector. He advised the couple to contact the Union. The couple came to Ahmedabad office of the Union.

The Union helped the couple file a FIR (First Information Report)1 at Ahmedabad itself. Finally one arm of system responded and a zero number FIR could be filed in a police station in Ahmedabad.

Along with rape, two workers who accompanied the couple also filed a complaint that the remaining group of workers is not being allowed to leave the construction site. One worker was not allowed to go home even after his mother passed away. The Union made an application to the relevant magistrate in Surat asking for release of workers under
the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act.

Things have moved forward after this. The workers have been rescued from the site and sent back home. The rape case is being investigated. Darsingh has been arrested.

The sad episode leaves behind questions and issues. These are not new. We are all familiar with these. Nevertheless these bear repetition.

  • Seasonal migration by whole families is now a way of life for the vast tribal belt of Western India. Female participation in labour is on the rise. The incident illustrates once again the rampant sexual harassment / exploitation women workers face in the informal sector at work sites.
  • It is impossible for poor people to approach the police on their own.
  • The incident exposes romantic notions of ‘tribal self rule’ and need to re-look at giving legal sanction to regressive tribal traditions like multiple marriages.
  • Even though workers have been released, they have not been given Release Certificates under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act. The certificates entitle workers to legal protection and financial benefits. Apparently Gujarat Government is not willing to accept that there is bondage in the state.

So far bondage has been associated with sectors like agriculture, brick kilns, and quarrying. This is the second case of bondage we have received from construction sites in metro locations. It is a worrying trend of emerging tentacles of neo-bondage in a new sector.

1 FIR means First Information Report. It refers to the complaint registered at the police station. This is the first step in initiating a police inquiry and case.

The video featured above is the working and living conditions of those in the brick kiln and construction sectors of India.

 

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