Along with her husband Barkat Ali, Dinu – a Gond tribal from Assam’s Golaghat – occupies a space at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, accompanying local women who have been at the forefront of an indefinite sit-in protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) for more than a month now.
Dinu, like several others, holds a placard addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to listen to their ‘Mann Ki Baat’. Her husband stands a few metres away, wearing a band on his head that reads: “I love my India”.
“After months of visits, I still could not get my Aadhaar card. They say I don’t have enough documents to get it done, so I had no choice but to join the people who are protesting for people like me.”Barkat Ali
Barkat, who works at a biryani shop, has taken time off since 18 January. The couple comes to the site of the protest at 8 am every morning and stays till midnight.
Amid the chaos, Dinu, who is almost four-months pregnant, gets anxious while talking about her family’s uncertain future. “I have had a traumatising past, but life changed for the better when I met Barkat and we decided to get married. Now, everything seems terrifying again... as if I am revisiting my past,” she says.
When she was just 15, Dinu was trafficked by an agent called Ram Vilas Paswan who had forcefully employed her to do household work with a promised wage of Rs 8,000 per month.
However, she says she received nothing for the four years of perpetual torture and work.
Dinu Hasn’t Received Crucial Papers, Rehabilitation Package
The modus operandi was no different than that in other cases of bonded labour in which mostly children, especially girls, are trafficked from poor families on the pretext of lucrative jobs, vocational training and education, among other things.
It is a violation of United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which clearly highlights that, “The child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.”
After being free for several months now, Dinu has not received her release certificate yet – a crucial document that is required to claim the rehabilitation package due by law.
What’s worse is that Dinu lost her father, who died of diarrhea and dehydration during his search for her.
“When I was trafficked along with other kids, I never thought that it would be the last time I would see my father. Like other fathers, he too wanted to see my sisters and I married,” she says with tears in her eyes.
A Vicious Cycle of Modern Slavery
The widespread problem is that of socio-economic inequality – helped along by rampant unemployment and chronic poverty – feeding the covert cycle of modern slavery.
“We are uneducated people but that doesn’t mean we are unaware of government policies and other rules. But above everything, I don’t have any option other than doing whatever I am doing for my family’s survival,” says Barkat.
Due to lack of education, people unknowingly get trapped in this vicious cycle. According to the revised report of the Minimum Wages Act of 1948, the monthly wage of an unskilled labourer for a month must not be less than Rs 14,842.
However, Barkat, due to the lack of employment opportunities in a city like Delhi, has been working in a biryani shop, where he hardly makes Rs 5,000 to 6,000 on a monthly basis.
As Nirmal Gorana, a human rights activist highlights, “A person who is not being paid the minimum amount as per the Minimum Wages Act of 1948 comes under the category of bonded labour as per the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act.”
While Barkat and Dinu vehemently continue protesting at Shaheen Bagh, many others, trafficked like Dinu, are still missing. Or, as Nirmal puts it, “unable to be rescued from the loop of bonded labourers”.
(Jyoti Thakur is a Journalism (Honours) student from Kalindi College, University of Delhi.)