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Why an Indian Farm Worker's Gruesome Death in Italy Is Not Just an Occupational Accident

Satnam Singh, who was 31 years old and left India to seek a future in Italy, was abandoned too long without treatment; his blood pressure was too low to allow him to survive the traumas he suffered.
Satnam Singh. Photo: X/Davide Faraone

Rome: Satnam Singh did not make it. He died in Rome’s San Camillo Hospital from the severe injuries he suffered on the farm near Latina, in central Italy, where he worked. But above all, he died due to the negligence of the cruel locals who had recruited and exploited him.

The incident was not “just” an occupational accident – one of too many that the news presents and dismisses every day. Terrible deaths in themselves, each has its own gruesome details, its aftermath of family members’ grief and mourning, and sense of injustice.

But Satnam Singh’s is still a different story, due to the abyss of inhumanity and barbarity it reveals.

A tragic twisted story

It is a story that seems to have been written by a sick mind, by a twisted imagination.

Torn apart Monday morning by the plastic wrapping machine he was working with, Satnam Singh was thrown into a nine-seat mini bus (the kind used by gangmasters to transport their slaves) along with his wife and was dumped in front of his house. His severed arm resting on a fruit crate, he was left bleeding to death, as his employer’s henchmen scurried away.

His wife and a trade unionist took care of him and called for help, which eventually arrived by helicopter but, we now know from the doctors, it was too late.

We know that Satnam Singh, who was 31 years old and left India to seek a future in Italy, was abandoned too long without treatment; his blood pressure was too low to allow him to survive the traumas he suffered. We know that if he had been helped, as the law and conscience require, he would have been saved.

Also read: Behind the Sweetness of Italy’s Kiwi Fruit Lie the Trafficking and Exploitation of Indian Workers

Where was everyone?

Latina is not a remote area; it is about 50 kilometres from the centre of Rome, where people govern and decide. Where the centres of power and control are based.

Could it be that the realities like the one that sealed Satnam Singh’s fate were ignored? That the comings and goings of the gangmasters and their henchmen were invisible to those who oversee the rules they themselves set? That the presence – in the fields, under the open sky, clearly visible to anyone – of men and women like Satnam Singh and his wife – who are employed without the shred of a contract as beasts of burden – had escaped them until this moment of tragedy? Where were the labour inspectors?

Where were the law enforcement agencies? Where were the regional structures – of a region that is now offering to pay for the funeral, but that failed to prevent the scourge of caporalato – the gangmaster system that exploits migrant and Italian workers – from running rampant in its territory? And lastly: Where is Coldiretti – the agriculture association that is widely present in the countryside, and that should see everything that happens there?

“What took place in Latina is an intolerable tragedy that horrifies the national agricultural world and confirms the need to keep our guard up against the caporalato phenomenon,” Coldiretti said.

Worldcrunch 🗞 Extra!

Translation matters • After a discussion with the team, we decided to leave the word capolarato in Italian, because it does not have a proper English translation. Capolarato is an unfortunately widespread practice in Italy in the agricultural and construction sectors and involves the criminal exploitation of cheap labour. Although it is a criminal offence, it persists and continues to create victims in both southern and northern Italy.

The caporale, the gangmaster, usually at dawn, gathers at strategic points in the city, daily labourers (men and women from the poorest and most deprived sections of society) whom he then redirects to the fields to work without a contract or adequate security measures. This modern form of slavery pays labourers €1 per crate of the harvested fruit, so roughly €30 for a 13-hour day of work, in the heat, without water, food and breaks.

– Agnese Tognini (read more about the Worldcrunch method here)

How many cases?

But how many cases of companies resorting to the caporalato system have been reported by its structures? There are about 230,000 illegal workers in the fields, victims of unscrupulous gangmasters and entrepreneurs. Some 55,000 are women. They make up roughly a quarter of the entire agricultural workforce.

Is it possible that no one sees anything? That these slaves of the post-modern age only become visible when they die? Not even when they are “just” injured – but when they die!

The quality of a country is also determined by these episodes. And a nation that allows, tolerates them or even ignores them, cannot call itself great.

Marco Revelli is an Italian political scientist, political activist, essayist and journalist, who collaborates with different newspapers, among which is La Stampa.

Translated from the original Italian and adapted by Agnes Tonghini.

This article first appeared on Worldcrunch in partnership with La Stampa. Read the original here.

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