Maharashtra Migrants in Tamil Nadu Forced to Work like Bonded Labourers

An Intervention by AICCTU

CPIML, Tamilnadu unit, received an information that five labourers (3 female and 2 male) along with their 2 young children are treated as bonded labourers, since March 8, 2023, in Ambasamudram Village, Usilambatti Taluk of Madurai District in Tamilnadu. They hail from Beed and Parbani districts of Maharashtra. Anna Gidve is the contractor from Maharashtra who treated them as slaves. This arrogant contractor is associated with Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party. For sugarcane cutting, he employs 100s of workers for the Rajyasree Sugar Mills in Tamil Nadu’s Madurai and Theni districts. Marathi is the only language spoken and known by these labourers.

On May 2, 2023, AICCTU leaders Ponnudurai and Jagatheesh Kumar, with the input provided by Chandramohan of CPIML, TN, visited them and found that the working conditions were very bad. The contractor threatened these leaders, but they managed to meet the workers. The workers were forced to work for 16 hours a day from 4 AM to 8 PM, no holidays, and were paid Rs.275 per ton for two persons to cut sugarcane. The contractor gets Rs.1000 per ton from factory management. The working and living conditions are unsanitary, unsafe in temporary tents. Workers also complained of sexual harassment.

The Madurai District AICCTU Committee met the District Collector and filed a complaint on May 3. The next day officers from various departments and the police reached the spot. They confirmed the conditions of bondedness after enquiring with workers and the contractor. Rajyasree Sugar Mills officials reached the spot in support of the contractor. Defying all intimidation and threat, a group of workers narrated the conditions of servitude. But a large number of them succumbed to the threats of the management and the contractor. In face of it, instead of releasing about 50 bonded labourers and filing criminal cases under the Abolition of Bonded Labourers Act and SC-ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act against the contractor Anna Godve, the government officials decided to release only 7 workers who had testified in front of them. The officials did not take any action against the erring management and the contractor and, shockingly, asked the Sugar mill Management to send those seven workers back home. The Rajyashree Sugar Mill management only provided ordinary train tickets to workers to Mumbai without even any money for food, pending wages and other benefits.
This is how a nexus of contractors with the administration is working on the ground against the migrant workers. Alienated from their traditional land and forests, tribals and Dalits of Maharashtra and north and central India fall into the vicious trap of the contractor mafia and are subjected to cruel exploitation as bonded labourers in states like Tamil Nadu.

AICCTU has asked the administration for this particular incident to 1. Take action against the Rajyashree Sugar Mill management for practising a bonded labour system; 2. All Marathi workers being treated as bonded labourers in sugarcane cutting should be freed immediately with accompanied benefits, including wages, other dues and complete expenses to reach their native places; and 3) Maharashtra contractor Anna Godve and his henchmen should be arrested immediately under the Abolition of Bonded Labourers Act and the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.