Most of the freed bonded labourers of Gangooru are up against bureaucratic hurdles
“We don’t want money, we want land.” This was the strident demand of the freed bonded labourers of Gangooru in Arakalgud taluk, when this reporter met them in their village a year ago. Today, 24 persons, who for years worked for landlords for a paltry sum, own land granted by the State government after a 20-year wait. However, there is a glitch. Bureaucratic hurdles have stopped them from cultivating their land.
This village hit headlines in 1994 after leaders of the Dalit Sangharsh Samiti (DSS) brought the practice of bonded labour to light. As many as 91 people were working for sums ranging from Rs. 25 to Rs. 100 a year. Worse, they were hardly paid their salary as it was deducted to clear old debts.
Mahendra Jain, the then Deputy Commissioner of Hassan, passed an order releasing all 91 from bondage on September 26, 1994. In 2003, they were given cattle to help them earn a livelihood. This hardly helped because there was no grazing land nearby. Following sustained efforts by sympathetic organisations and the freed bonded labourers themselves, the government finally identified land in Sakleshpur taluk for them, and handed over the records on November 12, 2013.
However, among the 91, only 24 have been allotted land, while the rest are continuing their fight. H.S. Mahadeva Prasad, Minister for Public Works and in-charge of Hassan district, had promised that the remaining labourers would also be granted land, but it is yet to happen.
Meanwhile, though the 24 beneficiaries are happy with the 72 acres of land allotted, in total, to them as it is located in high rainfall area, their difficulties have not ended. Except for five of them, they have not yet relocated to villages in Sakleshpur taluk to start cultivation because they are yet to get borewells sunk under the Ganga Kalyana scheme and houses by the Rajiv Gandhi Housing Corporation, as promised. However, all of them visit their land regularly to ensure it is not encroached upon. A senior official of the district administration said proposals for sanctioning land and borewell were sent to the respective boards six months ago.