It seems that there is no limit to gruesomeness of torture that is inflicted on the migrant labourers of western Odisha. Before the ghastly act of chopping of the palms of two migrant labours faded away, one after another more and more cruel, shocking and sickening stories of migrant labourers subjected to physical and mental trauma that no surgery, medicine or counseling will ever be able to heal are being reported.
Even the all powerful time will not be able to fade it, leave aside healing it. It seems that there is no end to it. It is a perpetual show of human helplessness, greed and cruelty and systemic indifference.
Sushant Kumbhar, age 12 years, resident of village Kadalimunda, GP Ghuchepali, Block Patnagarh, district Bolangir. At his age he should have been in the school, enjoying his right to childhood and education. But, Sushant was not fortunate enough for all these. Abject poverty of his family compelled them to migrate out.
Last October Sushant, his father Santosh and mother Bhanumati were part of a group of eight families from the same village who had gone to Khandeyarnepali under Sedam Police station areas of Gulbarga district of Karnataka to work in brick kilns. Two middlemen Bhutulu Behera and Mohana Meher had paid Sushanta’s father an amount of Rs 2000 as advance. He was promised that he will be paid another Rs 15, 000 after reaching the workplace.
Neither the middlemen nor the brick kiln owner paid the promised money to Santosh. Other eight families also had the same plight. They were paid only Rs 500 a week. After working for a few months, the brick kiln employees started torturing the workers. Unable to take the torture, a few of the workers managed to flee. They informed the Bolangir district administration about the plight of the laborers there. Bolangir administration managed to rescue the rest of the migrants with the help of Gulberga district administration.
When Sushant’s family reached Bolangir, Sushanta was having unbearable pain in his broken left hand. When he was taken to the district headquarter hospital they were in for a shock. The doctors informed that Sushant’s hand need to be amputated as it had been severely infected beyond repair. Sushant was brutally injured allegedly by the kiln owner Lachhman Nayak when he refused to turn the bricks upside down for drying.
“I refused to turn the bricks as I had acute pain in my hand. Irked, Lachhman hit my left hand with an iron rod,” Sushant narrated to the media. The owner did not take any steps for the treatment of the broken hand. Left with no option his mother Bhanumati tried in vain to treat the hand with paste of some leaf and herbs.
Sushant got medical attention only after reaching Bolangir. Now Sushanta is undergoing treatment in Vir Surendra Sai Medical College Hospital in Burla. The specialist doctors there have given up hope of reviving the hand as it has been damaged beyond repair. The left hand could be retained with plastic surgery, but it can not perform its normal functions.
The two workers had lost their right palms. And this twelve year old boy has lost his left hand. But what the family of Tapi Bagarti of Dengpadar village under Malisira GP of Muribahal block in Bolangir district have lost is much more than this. Tapi had to pay the price for migrating out through his life and agony to his family members who even could not perform his last rites.
Tapi, a landless labour had no option but occasional daily wage to survive in his village. So he bit the bullet by taking an advance of Rs 60,000 from Khyama Banchhor of his village. He paid back all the loans he had from different villagers and set out for Nijamabad in Andhra Pradesh along with his wife Phatu, eighteen year old daughter Tulsi and 13 year old son Biswamitra.
Everything was running smoothly for Tapi till 13th of January when he had diarrhea and vomiting. Though he was not attended to by his employer immediately, later he was taken to a government hospital in Nijamabad. But as his condition turned serious he was referred to Hyderabad. Phatu accompanied her husband to Hyderabad hospital. But there Tapi succumbed on 15th of January.
The cup of woes started overflowing for the family after the death of Tapi. After his death, the middleman swung into action. He did not even allow Tapi to cry over her husband’s dead body. The middlemen compelled Phatu to leave the hospital immediately leaving behind the dead body. He also brought Phatu’s son and daughter from the workplace to the railway station and packed them off to Bolangir.
All their pleading to take the dead body back to their village failed. The son and daughter could not have the last sight of their father. Bracing hunger and hungry eyes of the anti-socials on Tulsi they somewhat managed to reach their village. On 19th January this distressed family met the ADM, Titilagarh.
In both the instances the police have filed cases. The police are in the lookout for the perpetrators. The state has taken the responsibility for treatment of Sushant from Odisha Treatment Fund. For Sushanta, Odisha State Human Rights Commission and Child Commission have sought report from the District Administration. And no doubt similar efforts also will mounted in Tapi’s case as well. But all these will in no way bring back the palms, hand, life and even the dead body.
After the palm chopping case the administration swooped on the migrant labors in a bid to prevent them from migrating out. But the government made a law and order problem out of this desperation/compulsion of people to migrate out. It converted a socio-economic compulsion into a law and order problem, that too on the wrong side.
Rather than using the Interstate Migrant Workers’ Act to ensure that the workers get their due right, it rather has used or abused it to prevent the migrants from going out. But despite such raids, rescues or whatever you call it, people were desperate to migrate out, because they have only hunger and starvation back home. And for this they also have taken advance from the middlemen There is no hope back home. Even after such massive raids the government did not create work opportunities, live and kicking, to engage this population that was so desperately leaving their home land despite the knowledge of abuses, atrocities, etc.
And all these years the governments, irrespective of their political affiliations, have done precious little to address the fundamental compulsions for migration and starvation. It is not that the government, media, bureaucrats, politicians are unaware of the hunger and desperation in this part of the world. The hunger of Kalahandi and Bolangir has brought the likes of late Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi to their door steps.
There has been promises galore. Lots of programs, schemes like MGNREGS, one rupee rice, watershed development programs, special KBK program and what not. But the fate of these hapless people has not changed, there has not been any let up in their sufferings. For years together, Nilambaras and Pialus, Sushants, Tapis etc all were there, last year, and also the year before.
And they also will be there the years to come. And who knows how many of them went unreported? Still the political leadership, bureaucracy, media and the intelligentsia will be indifferently harvesting the crop of hunger and starvation unabashed. As there is no limit to the suffering to the toiling masses, there is also no limit to the apathy of the State. It is a gamble with no limits. And it is quite natural that pounds of flesh will be asked for, bones will be crushed and lives will be shed. It is a game of no limits.