NGOs suspect cover-up in bonded labour case

They allege it was done so because the accused is connected to a prominent politician of Mandya district

Non-governmental organisations and activists suspect a conspiracy to suppress and cover up a case of bonded labour in a stone quarry at Yaladahalli village in Nagamangala taluk of Mandya district despite complaints by the victims.

They have sought a inquiry into the case as the complainant has alleged that she was also molested.

The Swabhimana Trust of Mandya took up the case following which the Assistant Commissioner of Pandavpur, Shivananda Murthy, ordered an inquiry last December.

Officials, including the tahsildar of Nagamangala taluk, had visited the spot and had concluded that there was neither evidence of bonded labour nor illegal quarrying in the Yaladahalli village as alleged.

They also reported at that time there were no signs of anybody overseeing or intimidating the complainant to work under duress as alleged. In all, 13 people were said to be forced to work in the quarry.

However, NGOs have alleged that the authorities rushed to the conclusion to hush up the case as the accused was connected to a prominent politician of the district.

Meanwhile, a First Information Report (FIR) was registered on December 18, 2020, in the Belur police station, based on a complaint by a woman that her family including her two children, were forced into bonded labour by the owner of the stone quarry, identified as Madhu.

“My father-in-law had taken an advance of ₹40,000 about 20 years ago which is yet to be repaid and hence my family is forced to work from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at ₹200 per week,” according to the complainant.

An expert on human rights said that the complaint indicates that it a inter-generational bondage with the debt accrued by the father being passed on to his son and daughter-in-law, and hence this called for a serious inquiry.

He said though there are charges of caste atrocity and sexual molestation in the FIR, the accused was yet to be arrested which lends credence to suspicions of a cover-up. As per a 2016 State government order, in case any SC/ST member is subjected to bonded labour ₹1 lakh is due as compensation of which 25% has to be paid at the time of registering the FIR and it has not been done so far, said the human rights scholar.

When contacted, Belur SI Dayanand said “investigation is still on”.

Meanwhile, Venkatagiriah, State President of Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti (DSSSS or DS-4) said illegal mining and bonded labour were intrinsically linked and they are present to a large degree in Mandya district.

“There are attempts to hush up the case against which we held a protest in Nagamangala on Saturday. We will fight till the victims secure justice,” he alleged.

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