Amid the chaos of the ongoing unrest in Kashmir valley, two families are demanding a separate kind of 'Azadi'.
These Adivasi families from Chhattisgarh's Korba region had migrated to the J&K in search of livelihood. One of these families has been working as bonded labour for the past 30 years and the other is awaiting return to its native place for the last 12 years.
Both the families belong to the Birda village in Kusmunda area of Korba district, Chhattisgarh. Three decades ago, the hope of a better life had brought Brijlal Soni to Kashmir along with his wife and children. Soni claims his family has not returned home together for the last three decades.
"I have returned alone this time. The brick kiln owner never allows us to visit home together. We take turns to come home. My wife is no longer alive," he laments.
A valley of no return
Thirty years ago, Brijlal had found employment in a brick kiln in Chakmod village in Jammu's Tawi district. According to him, every time the family wanted to visit the native village, the employer came in the way. He asked only one of the members to take leave.
Initially, Brijlal thought the work pressure was the reason for this diktat. Later, he realised the family members had been turned into bonded labourers. Now, Brijlal, as well as his children, want to come back to Korba. However, the owner is not allowing them to do so.
A few days ago, a perturbed Brijlal returned to his native place. He shared his story with his fellow villagers. The locals have helped him lodge a complaint with the police. The residents of Birda have now sought help from the labour department and the Chhattisgarh government.
Catch News contacted Korba's Superintendent of Police (SP) Tarekshwar Patel in this regard. He confirmed that the police department had received information about two families held hostage in Rajauri and Tawi districts of J&K.
According to Patel, the police will have to keep in mind the current unrest in J&K before taking any action.
"We are considering constituting a team to free these families. We will have to go through the state-level departmental procedures for this purpose. The task will get easier once the team is formed," he stated.
Brijlal claims his family is not allowed holidays even on festivals like Diwali. They had to skip many wedding ceremonies at their native village. His daughter and son are of marriageable age, but, he is not able to find a suitable match for them as all his relatives and contacts reside in Korba.
An attempt at freedom
In the police complaint, Brijlal has alleged that his owner has forced seven other families to work as bonded labourers. He has even named Lakshmi Bai (35), Saraswati (33), Saroj Bai (33), Vrihaspati Bai (29), Saroj Bai (20) and Santosh Soni (19) as victims.
Ghasiram Kashyap, another resident of Birda village, shares the same story. He has been working as a bonded labour in Rajauri district for the last 12 years. He and his family are employed in another brick kiln at Rajauri's Bal village.
Ghasiram has alleged that six members of his family, including his son and grandson, are held hostage in this brick kiln. He has appealed to the Chhattisgarh authorities for help.
Recently, the legal aid officials have written to the Korba SP for help. The head of the local legal aid service and Sessions Judge GK Mishra has taken cognisance of Ghasiram's complaint and have instructed the Korba police to take necessary action.
The police have apprised the Korba Collector of the matter. There are chances that the local administration might form a joint team of police, labour department and the department of women and child development. Such teams have successfully freed such families from other states in the past.