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29 Dec 2016

7 bonded labourers from Dooars tea garden rescued from Nepal brick kiln

Amitava banerjee, HT, 28 December 2016, DARJEELING: Given the crisis in the tea gardens of North Bengal, workers and their families steeped in abject poverty are fast becoming easy prey to human traffickers.Traffickers lure them with promises of lucrative jobs. This stark reality came to the fore with the rescue of seven bonded labourers, including two minors, from a brick kiln in Nepal by NGOs aided by the Nepal Police.
The seven victims, including three females, are all residents of a tea garden 7 km from Odlabari in Mal sub-division of Jalpaiguri. Rezabul Karim and his associate Jahirul Islam, the alleged traffickers, used to visit the houses of the victims and were successful in luring then with the promise of jobs.
“On December 7, the seven left the tea garden along with Karim. They were under the impression that they were being taken to Siliguri. After that the families lost all trace of the seven. The families then approached us on December 12 following which we lodged missing diaries and an FIR at Mal Bazar Police Station on December 16. We also contacted Tiny Hands India (THIndia) in Siliguri,” said Md Anwar Hussain, secretary, Steps, an NGO based in Odlabari.
The NGO, THIndia, has sister organisations in Nepal too. “We had news the victims were taken to Nepal. Aided by our sister organisation in Nepal we got in touch with Nepal police and raided brick factories of Kakarvitta, a Nepal town bordering India. They were not found there. Later their location was traced to a brick factory in Gorana Bazar of Mahottari district under Janakpur Anchal of Nepal,” said Ashim Rai, project manager, THIndia.
Nepal police then raided the brick factory and rescued the seven on December 25. They were handed over to their parents by THIndia after completing all necessary formalities at the 41 battalion SSB Border Outpost at Panitanki on the Indian side.
The victims narrated how they were trafficked and sold off as bonded labourers. From the tea garden they were taken to Siliguri. They were told the brick factory was located on the outskirts of Siliguri town. From Siliguri they were taken to Kakarvitta, the Nepal town bordering Panitanki on the Indian side. From there they were all put on a bus and taken to Gorana Bazar, an eight-hour long drive from Kakarvitta.
“We found out that the agents had taken 50,000 Nepali Rupees from the owner of the factory. The victims were paid 1.28 Nepali rupees per brick. Their movements were restricted. They were not allowed to contact their family members. They were verbally and physically abused. The factory owner told them they would have to work for at least for three months or pay 50,000 Nepali Rupees if they wanted to leave. Finally one of the victims managed to sneak out and contact his family members. This prompted the search,” said Rai. Two of the victims are school students, one in Class 10 and the other in 12.
Karim and Islam, hailing from Alipurduar, are absconding, possibly hiding in Nepal.
There are around 3.5 lakh workers employed in 283 gardens in Terai, Dooars and Darjeeling region.

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