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Northern Indian dioceses join forces for migrant workers

10 dioceses in Agra archdiocese vow to combat evils of forced labor and human trafficking
Migrant labourers wait with their belongings to board a train to their hometown in Chennai, India on April 19, 2021

Migrant labourers wait with their belongings to board a train to their hometown in Chennai, India on April 19, 2021. (Photo: AFP)

Published: May 03, 2023 07:41 AM GMT
Updated: May 03, 2023 11:55 AM GMT

Dioceses in northern India's Agra archdiocese have decided to unite to fight forced labor and human trafficking that affect millions of migrant workers in their area.

On International Workers’ Day on May 1, some 10 dioceses vowed to combat forced labor and human trafficking at a meeting of diocesan representatives.

The dioceses are Lucknow, Bareli, Jhansi, Jaipur, Ajmeer, Gorakhpur, Bijnor, Allahabad, Meerut and Varanasi.

The Commission for Migrants under the Conference of Catholic Bishops in India organized the meeting in Jaipur, the capital of the northern state of Rajasthan.

Retired Bishop Oswald Lewis of Jaipur told the meeting about the need for Church volunteers to take up proactive steps to “accompany and assist” various government welfare schemes for the benefit of migrant workers.

The Church with its “trained manpower and resources can be of great help to unite” migrant workers and can give “a united voice to them,” said Nirmal Gorana, a Delhi-based human rights activist who also attended the meeting.

India has enacted the Bonded Labour Abolition Act and the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act of 1956, to ensure justice to victims of human trafficking and bonded labor.

"But victims of social evils are unable to take advantage of them due to their ignorance,” Gorana told UCA News on May 2.

India is home to 380 million migrant laborers, according to the federal government’s eShram portal which connects workers with employers and the government through digital skilling, apprenticeships, and pension schemes, among others.

Most migrant laborers are unaware of benefits like minimum wages, and legal protection against their exploitation, Gorana, who faced death threats for his work among brick-kiln workers in Rajasthan, observed.

“The condition of migrant workers is horrible and dangerous as in many cases police support their tormentors even if a complaint is lodged,” he noted.

Many migrant workers realize their exploitation only after becoming trapped, which demands joint efforts by Church volunteers and law-enforcement agencies to save them, Gorana said.

“Bonded labor and trafficking are rampant among migrant workers as they are unable to seek government help in distress,” said Sister Rani Punnaserril, a member of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, Menzingen, which works among migrant workers in India’s national capital New Delhi.

“We have agreed to form a resource team, equipped with legal knowledge and adequate skills, to effectively address human trafficking and bonded labor,” Sister Punnaserril told UCA News on May 2.

“Migration from the northern Indian states has increased since Covid-19 as many have lost their jobs and are compelled to move to different places in search of work,” Sister Punnaserril said.

“The irony is that they are not getting any legal support as they lack legal documents to prove their movement from one place to the other,” the nun said.

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