Our country abolished bonded labour in 1976, but we still have 1.8 million slaves, as per the Global Slavery Index.
Many of these people are from poor rural areas, and few are lured with the promise of decent jobs but end up sold as domestic workers, to textile units, farms, unauthorised and illegal factories and mines, or even prostitution.
In many cases, they are unpaid and are held in debt bondage, forced to work without wages until they clear the loans they have taken to secure their jobs.
The labourers working in these illegal factories are intimidated and ill-treated. Pregnant women are forced to work. There are no toilets or meal breaks, and they are punished for taking leave. They are sexually harassed and kept on illegal short-term contracts.
A recent incident in Udaipur, Rajasthan was brought to light by Nirmal Gorana, Convener of the National Campaign Committee For Eradication of Bonded Labour.
He spoke to The Logical Indian about the incident.
A major explosion took place in a Chemical factory in Deepa Chemical Factory in Sukher Industrial Area of Udaipur, Rajasthan on Monday. The incident took place around 2:50 pm causing damage to the building and also created panic in the whole area.
The cause of the blast is still not known. The factory manufactured Epoxy resin which is used as an adhesive. At the time of the explosion, few drums containing highly flammable liquid were at the site. As soon as the fire ignited, the drum caught fire and exploded followed by other drums.
There were ten labourers on site. Few were from Uttar Pradesh, and few others were from local economically backwards communities.
Seven informal workers passed away in this tragic incident while three have suffered injuries.
The labourers were forced to work in extreme conditions. It is also alleged that they did not have an idea of the chemical they were working with.
Speaking to The Logical India, the SP of Sukher Industrial Police Station said that the licence of the factory was under the name of Dinesh Harkawat and Manish Talesara. They are both absconding, and the police have not been able to trace them.
Nirmal has submitted a letter to the District Magistrate of the Udaipur requesting them to probe into this matter. He also requested the Magistrate to check the licence, permission and operations of the factories in the same area. He stated that the safety procedures and emergency responses to the workers should also be investigated and monitored.
As per the Workmen Compensation Fund, compensation is payable in case of death or permanent disablement or temporary total or partial disablement.
If a worker dies in the course of work, his widow, his minor, legitimate or adopted son, unmarried legitimate/adopted daughter and a widowed mother will receive the compensation.
The complete Workmen’s Compensation Act can be read here.
Nirmal and his team have written to the chairperson of National Human Rights Commission to compensate the bereaved families. They are also taking the matter ahead to the District Magistrate of Udaipur District.
There have been similar events in the past.
Three labourers were burnt to death in a fire that broke out in a shoe manufacturing factory in Chandigarh. The unit had flammable spirits and manufactured shoes. The workers were sleeping inside the unit, and it was locked from inside.
In another incident, thirteen workers died because of smoke inhalation in a fire at an illegal garment factory on the outskirts of Delhi.
Time and again, we see that there is no importance given to health and safety measures in workplaces. It is worse in factories like these where they are employing undocumented workers and exploiting them for cheap labour, and treating them as a disposable workforce.
Despite having laws and provisions, why are such places not monitored?