Op-Ed: The Horror Story Continues

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: With employment scenario in the state remaining bleak the focus has once again turned to the annual phenomenon of migration of labourers from the hunger zones of what has come to be known as the KBK belt. The argument that people from this region migrate to other states in search of greener pastures sounds hollow as more often than not the migrants return with horror stories of exploitation at the hands of their employers.

One of the worst cases of violence against these hapless labourers , who often work for a pittance, had been reported in December, 2013. Two of them had to lose their palms for refusing to do the bidding of the labour contractor who had hired them. Nilambar Dhangada and Bialu Nial, both residents of backward Kalahandi district, had been hired by the contractor to work in Raipur but were asked by him to proceed to a brick kiln in Andhra Pradesh at the last moment. When they objected the contractor and his henchmen chopped off their palms.

Barely had the uproar subsided over this inhuman act of the “sardar”, as labour contractors are referred to in the local parlance, than came another shocker. A 12-year-old boy from Balangir, also part of KBK region, had his hand smashed by his employer in Karnataka with an iron rod.

Such horror stories notwithstanding, the exodus of labourers from the state’s hunger zone continues. On a rough estimate, around 3.5 lakh people from Kalahandi, Balangir, Nuapada and Sonepur, the four west Odisha districts included in the KBK belt, migrate to other states annually in search of jobs.

Most return home to narrate stories of torture and exploitation at the hands of their employers but there is no end to this human traffic fuelled by the grinding poverty of the region. What is worse the state government is yet to collect reliable data on migrant labourers and seems helpless as far as the proliferation of illegal labour contractors and middlemen is concerned.

The migration begins in October soon after Nuakhai, west Odisha’s harvesting festival, when poor families take advance money ranging from Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 from the labour contractors, a majority of them unlicensed. The contractors often send their middlemen to the villages scouting for potential recruits.

Soon after men, women and children leave for states such as Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu to work under inhuman conditions. The bulk of this labour force is employed in the brick kilns.

Experts agree that poverty fuels migration. Statistics highlight the grim poverty of Kalahandi, Balangir and Nuapada, the three districts worst affected by the phenomenon of labourer migration. While in Balangir around 2,01,310 households fall in the below poverty line (BPL) category the number of such households in Kalahandi stands at around 1,93,054. In Nuapada at least 85,130 households fall in the BPL catregory.

A major hurdle to finding a viable solution to the problem is the near absence of authentic data base about migrant labourers with the state government. The available statistics is both sketchy and unreliable. The government must act on this front in a more sure-footed manner.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)