Indian sugar mill under scrutiny for using cane harvested by slaves

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An investigation into the rescue of 28 bonded labourers from a sugarcane field in Karnataka state in south India has led police to one of the biggest sugar companies in the region, according to investigators.

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Police said they had registered a complaint against the supervisor of a sugarcane field, his assistant and a factory run by Bannari Amman Sugars Ltd for trafficking workers, using child labour and violating provisions of a law to end bonded labour.

Bannari Amman Sugars has denied any wrongdoing and asked for the case against the company to be dropped.

Campaigners said it was rare to include a manufacturer in a complaint about bonded labour – in which people provide labour to pay of debts or other obligations – as only the middleman or contractors are held accountable.

“We found clear evidence of bondage, with workers not being paid minimum wages and children below 14 years being used to cut the cane,” said Soujanya Karthik of the Mysore district administration that rescued the workers.

A spokesman for Bannari Amman Sugars said the company wrote to the state labour inspector on Oct. 12 making its side clear and declined to comment further.

The letter stated that the sugarcane grower was responsible for harvesting and transporting sugarcane to the factory gate and the price is fixed by the national and state government.

It said a notice by the labour inspector asking to explain why legal action should not be initiated is based on “incomplete information” and asked for the case to be dropped.

The company’s factory near the town of Nanjangud has denied any role in the abuse or bondage of workers. The factory sources cane from nearby farms.

“Ensuring compliance on the fields is not our job. We only deal with the contractor supplying the cane,” said factory general manager Veluswamy, who declined to give his full name.

“Inside the factory we are maintaining labour laws and we have clarified our stand to the labour department as well. This is how it is done across India.”

India banned bonded labour in 1976 but the practice is widespread, with millions from the marginalised Dalit and tribal communities working in fields, brick kilns, mills, brothels or in domestic work to repay debts to employers or money lenders.

Gowramma Raja was one of the workers rescued from the sugarcane field in Mysore in September.

In statements to the officials, the rescued labourers said that were being paid up to 1,000 rupees ($15) per family every week, for their expenses and food, while working up to 12 hours a day cutting, bundling and carrying cane.

“It was a life I hadn’t imagined,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview after her rescue.

“We had taken a loan of 20,000 rupees ($300) and worked tirelessly for three years. But the supervisor wouldn’t even let me go home when my son died. I had to beg him to give me a few days off.”

There was clear evidence of exploitation and abuse in the fields, said William Christopher of non-profit International Justice Mission that assisted the government in the rescue.

“They were living in unsafe conditions in tarpaulin tents, without lighting, toilets or drinking water,” he said.

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These are the safest and most dangerous states for women in India

While Goa was ranked the safest among the states, Bihar was found to be the most unsafe.
Photo: Pinterest

Photo: Pinterest

With violence against women becoming rampant in the country, the safety of women has become a matter of grave concern.

Logic cannot really deduce what provokes alleged perpetrators to impregnate a child or even rape a 100-year-old woman for that matter.

In such a situation, the Ministry of Women and Child Development has released a Gender Vulnerability Index, complied by Plan India that ranks states in India, in terms of the level of safety that they promise to women.

The index aims to identify the status of Indian women with regard to education, health, poverty and protection.

According to the study, Goa has been rated as the safest state for women, with a GVI (Gender Vulnerability Index) score of 0.656. It has ranked first in terms of protection, fifth for education, sixth for health and survival and eighth for poverty.

Other states where women are considered to be least vulnerable include Kerala, Mizoram, Sikkim and Manipur.

Picture courtesy: Plan India

Picture courtesy: Plan India

On the other hand, Bihar was found to be the most unsafe state for women, with a GVI score of 0.410. Women are believed to be the most vulnerable in the state, less healthy and poorer, as compared to other states in the country. The state also ranked the lowest in terms of education and protection.

Bihar was preceded by Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, with GVI score of 0.436 and 0.434 respectively.

Survivor volunteers as bait to net traffickers

By TOI:

KOLKATA: A 30-year-old trafficking victim from the Bishnupur area of South 24 Parganas took it on herself to act as a bait for cops and led them to the arrest of four traffickers on Monday . The woman was trafficked to Delhi five years ago and has been facing threats after being rescued soon after.

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Threatened repeatedly to withdraw her case, the victim was even offered a huge amount to change her statement against the traffickers. The victim is a resident of Bishnupur’s Damdama.

For a woman who can barely make her ends meet -working as a daily labourer -it was an offer hard to refuse.She agreed to meet her tormentors at Sonarpur railway station on Monday night, but her motive was to use herself as a bait and help cops nab all the accused. Before meeting the accused, she had sent an SOS to NGO Shakti Vahini -which had rescued her fiver years back. The NGO in turn informed the top brass of South 24 Parganas police, who promised her of all help.

“Every bhaiphota they would re turn, bringing back painful memories.I decided to end it. My mother took the first step. She took down the numbers of the two female traffickers, one of them was identified as Deepali. They had come to my house to settle the matter. I called Deepali and recorded the conversation. When cops reached my house on the night of the operation, they asked me to ensure that I get as ma ny traffickers out in the open as possible. So I called up Deepali and claimed my mother-in-law was sick and was admitted at a Kolkata hospital,” said the victim.

The 30-year-old had demanded Rs 1 lakh so that heads of the gang get involved in the affair. “On Monday , the tormentors asked me to come to Baruipur but I refused. Later, we settled for So narpur platform 4. Even then Deepaili kept insisting me to go near an overbridge. But when I said I have to go to Kolkata for my mother-in-law’s treatment, they offered me a car ride. That is when they all showed up and the cops arrested them,” added the girl.
“It would not have been possible without the courage the woman displayed all through,” said a senior officer of Bishnupur police police station.
According to Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini -the NGO who stood by her in her fight -the incident shows how well-organized the trafficking gangs are. “The next court hearing is in December where a sentencing is expected. The traffickers desperately wanted her to retract her statement – a pressure she had been withstanding since 2014. All the other five girls rescued along with her had retracted their statements, but she had even travelled to Delhi’s Tis Hazari court to record her statement,” said Rishi Kant.

 Cops said, it all started when a chance raid in GB Road by Delhi police on October 23 in 2012 led to the girl’s rescue. On November 11, 2012, the victim was given in custody of her father.

 

Head of Christian-run orphanage in India arrested in trafficking investigation

By Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Police in southern India have arrested a pastor accused of trafficking girls through a Christian-run orphanage that was taken over by authorities two years ago during an investigation into the unregistered children’s home.

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Police in southern Tamil Nadu state said they arrested Pastor Gideon Jacob on Saturday after he arrived from Germany and he has been charged under trafficking and juvenile justice laws.

Denying the allegations, Jacob’s lawyer told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that his client had voluntarily appeared before the police and was cooperating with the investigation.

The Moses Ministries home in Tiruchy, run by Germany-based Christian Initiative for India that was founded by Jacob in 1989, housed 89 children, all said to have been rescued from female infanticide from Usilampatti in neighboring Madurai.

However, the home had no proper records of the children, all of whom are now aged 18 years and above.

In December 2015, the home was taken over by the social welfare department after a court directive.

A wave of claims by people saying they were the children’s parents prompted a local court to rule that all the children should undergo DNA testing to establish their real families.

In 2016, DNA results showed at least 32 matches. None of the girls, however, have yet been reunited with their families.

“We have been counseling the girls, who have known no other life since they were babies,” said Tiruchy district head Kuppanna Gounder Rajamani.

“We have also identified the parents willing to take back their daughters and, following Saturday’s arrest, things will move faster and we are hoping to reunite the girls soon.”

More than 40 percent of human trafficking cases in India in 2015 involved children being bought, sold and exploited as modern-day slaves, according to government crime data.

There has been a recent spate of reports of the trafficking of infants and children for adoption and raising funds through charity-run child homes and private hospitals.

In Tamil Nadu, state authorities closed 500 homes between 2011 and 2016, citing mismanagement, a lack of registration and misconduct.

Rights groups have long complained that children’s homes in India are poorly regulated, not inspected often enough, and that many privately-run institutions are able to operate without a license leaving thousands of children open to abuse.

“The arrest gives us hope that there will be justice,” said A. Narayanan, the director of advocacy group Change India, who outlined the scope of the problem in a petition filed in Chennai’s High Court.

“The real worry is when and how these girls will be rehabilitated. Right now, it seems like a life sentence, where they are resigned to live in an institutional home.”

Abducted Girl Returns to Guwahati Reveals Vast Trafficking Network.

By Statesman, New Delhi: 

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Special investigation team to probe human trafficking cases soon: Rekha Arya

Yogesh Kumar, TOI, DEHRADUN :

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Cabinet minister for women and child developmentRekha Arya on Monday announced that the state government would set up SIT to probe human trafficking cases. Stressing on the need of a full-fledged SIT working 24X7 on human trafficking, she said, “The recent case show that US Nagar has emerged as a corridor and a SIT focusing on the larger trends and bursting the active gangs is the need of the hour.” The minister added that the CM has agreed to pass necessary directions to the police department for effective implementation

Raped, then sold off as a bride in a distant land

HINDU KARNAL

BY DEVESH PANDEY IN THE HINDU

Hundreds of girls and women have been sold-off by human traffickers as brides in Haryana villages since the past several years

In the tea gardens of Banarhat, a remote village bordering Bhutan in West Bengal, her father once worked as a labourer. After his death, the family survived for years on the meagre income of her mute brother, not enough to even pay for the proper treatment of her recurrent bouts of a mysterious stomach-aches. And then one day, yet another tragedy struck in the garb of a well-wisher. A human trafficker took Paro (name changed) to faraway Haryana, raped her and then sold her off as a bride to a middle-aged widower.

The family knew Mustafa Ali as the husband of the girl who once lived in their neighbourhood.

“We had taken Paro to the village doctors, but they could not cure her. This had us worried and in such a state of haplessness, Mustafa approached giving us a hope. He stayed with us for a night. Mustafa told us that not only Paro, but her mute brother could also be cured by the blessings of one Baba Rampal Maharaj, claiming that the godman had his ashram in Haryana,” said Paro’s elder sister. She had no inkling of Mustafa’s visit as she lives in another village with her husband.

Convinced that he was a God-sent saviour, Paro’s mother readily agreed to accompany Mustafa to Haryana along with the girl and her two sons. They boarded a train on July 3.

“We left for Delhi, from where we were taken to Kheri Man Singh village in Karnal. Mustafa took us to his house, where he lives with his two wives. We were shocked to discover that the villagers there knew him as Rajender Pal,” said a frail Paro, a 24-year-old woman who had virtually starved for the past few weeks.

Narrating her tale of horror, Paro recounted: “Rajender disclosed that he wanted to marry me off. When my mother and brothers objected, he and his men beat them up. He also attempted to sexually assault my mother. Following this, she and one of my brothers were forced to board a train back to our village. Rajender raped me and kept me in confinement for over 20 days. He would lock me inside a room whenever he went out.”

Paro refused to eat in protest and partly because she did not get her staple food — rice. While she languished at Rajender’s house, about four prospective grooms paid visits to check on her.

“The deal was finally struck with one Darshan Kumar for Rs.70,000. They staged a ceremony, where my brother was forced to pose for a photograph showing that the marriage had his approval,” said Paro. She was sent with Darshan, while her brother was sent packing home after his job was over.

“Darshan, a widower, sexually assaulted me and ill-treated me all the time. His mother also abused me. I was constantly looking for an opportunity to escape. Then and one day, in the early hours, I managed to slip out while the others were sleeping. I spent the entire day in the nearby sugarcane fields, but the villagers caught me the next morning and took me back to Darshan. They forced me to put my fingerprints on a blank paper,” said Paro.

Snapshot 2 (18-09-2013 19-59)A few days after Paro’s brother reached his village, the family learnt that Rajender had once again visited the village looking for some more girls. “We had got a case registered at the Banarhat police station on July 27. The police soon arrested him,” said Paro’s sister. The West Bengal Police then contacted non-government organisation Shakti Vahini seeking assistance for the victim’s rescue.

The NGO contacted the Karnal Superintendent of Police, on whose orders a team was sent to Darshan’s residence along with the organisation representatives on Monday, over two months after she was kidnapped. A video footage capturing the operation showed Paro screaming, bursting into tears and hugging her sister as soon as she sees her. Holding each other tightly, the sisters sobbed as Paro shared the agony and torture she had been subjected to.

Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini said: “Darshan was not home when the team reached there. The villagers confronted the NGO members, asserting that she had been bought for Rs.70,000. We finally managed to take the victim to the area police station, where she immediately went to the bathroom and sat under a tap till the sindoor was washed away completely.”

According to Mr. Kant, hundreds of girls and women like Paro are sold-off by human traffickers as brides in Haryana villages since the past several years.

“A skewed sex ratio [877 females per 1,000 males] in the State is the prime reason behind the mushrooming of such organised syndicates. As reported in the latest report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime [UNODC], a field study by Drishti Stree Adhyayan Prabodhan in 92 Haryana villages covering 10,000 households revealed that over 9,000 married women had been bought from other States. They address the purchased brides as Paro [from outside the State],” said Mr. Kant. Age, beauty and virginity are the yardsticks that determine their price.

Studies by various organisations have revealed that girls from poverty-stricken villages in Assam, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Odisha and even from Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, are trafficked to Haryana and Punjab via Delhi for forced marriages.

“Trafficking for forced marriages has also been reported from Kutch in Gujarat. Hundreds of Bengali-speaking Muslim women are trafficked from West Bengal and Bangladesh to Kutch, where they are sold off as brides,” stated the UNODC report, observing that from Haryana, they are also sent to the bordering areas of Rajasthan.