MIGRANT LABOUR

Using apps and credit cards, the Odisha government is trying to save migrants from bonded labour

Drought and dire poverty force villagers to take loans from labour agents, which they have to pay back by spending months working at brick kilns.

As tens of thousands of families in India’s eastern state of Odisha begin their autumn migration in search of work, the government is stepping up efforts to ensure their journey doesn’t end in slavery.

November sees families from rural Odisha leave their villages as part of a seasonal migration that lasts until the spring planting season.

Drought and dire poverty force men and women to take loans from labour agents in every village. They spend the next six months working – usually in brick kilns – to pay the debts back. Rights groups say this “debt bondage” is a form of slavery.

This year, however, the Odisha government has launched a raft of measures to protect workers – from an online app that allows easy registration of migrants to a 24/7 helpline, credit cards for safer loans and work contracts with brick kiln owners.

“There has been a steady flow of complaints and rescues of bonded labourers from Odisha over the years,” said BB Acharya, consultant to the inter-state migration cell, a part of the labour department looking after the rights of migrant workers. “This is by far the most comprehensive plan that is looking at both safe migration and providing more livelihood options.”

Campaigners estimate that over 100,000 labourers migrate from Odisha annually, the majority of them ending up in kilns where they cut, shape and bake clay-fired bricks, their wages deducted to pay off the loan.

Workers need to make almost 700,000 bricks to pay off a debt of Rs 20,000 over six to eight months.

“Prolonged droughts have created this mechanism of taking money in advance that eventually leads to bondage,” said Mary Surin of the charity Tata Trusts that is partnering with the government to map vulnerable workers.

The Odisha government has mapped 28,000 households of vulnerable migrants across nearly 300 villages in 11 migration- prone districts.

This year it launched the “shramik sahayata” (workers’ help) app allowing villagers to register online before migrating and has established helpdesk kiosks and a phoneline for migrants.

“We are setting up five helpdesks in destination states where labourers are going to spend six to eight months working,” said Odisha labour commissioner Sachin Ramchandra Jadhav. “Along with the toll free helpline that is already running, we hope to help workers at every step.”

The Odisha government has also helped to draw up direct contracts between workers and 100 kiln owners in the southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in an effort to cut out agents and end the practice of debt bondage.

“The exploitative middleman will slowly cease to exist,” Jadhav said. “We are looking at tying up with banks to pay workers directly using savings bank accounts and they can also avail advance money through labour credit cards.”

This article first appeared on Thomson Reuters Foundation News.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.