A member of staff from Andijan Region’s Agriculture and Water Resources Department, who was brought to Syrdarya to pick cotton on 20 September, and who requested to remain anonymous, has complained to OzodMikrofon (Free Microphone) that he has been picking cotton for almost two months in difficult conditions and that the leadership has no plans to replace him or send him back home.
“We have been here for 50 days now. During this period, we only had one chance to bathe in a pond. We also do our laundry in this pond and dry it in the cotton field”, he says.
He says that their leadership, who are enjoying their time in cafes, eating delicious food, have no plans to send them back home:
“We miss our children. We are working like slaves. If we pick 20 kilos of cotton, it is only enough to pay for food. The leadership threatens us, saying that whoever leaves the cotton fields will be dismissed. There were people who simply ran away and we heard on the phone that they were sacked. For this reason, we have to stick it out”, says the man from Andijan.
Conversation with a member of staff from Andijan Region’s Agriculture and Water Resources Department, who was brought to Syrdarya Region’s Bakht District to pick cotton on 20 September, and who requested to remain anonymous:
The cotton picker: We are now in Syrdarya picking cotton. We have been here since 20 September, and it is not clear when we will be allowed to go home.
Correspondent: Who sent you here? Was it your office?
The cotton picker: Yes, it was. The food is not too bad, but taking a bath is problematic here. It is almost two months now and there are no facilities to take a bath at all.
Correspondent: In which district are you now?
The cotton picker: We are in Syrdarya Region’s Bakht District.
Correspondent: How many of you are there? Did you arrive by train?
The cotton picker: No, not by train. We arrived here in ten “Damas” (mini-vans) from Andijan. The place where we are living is not bad. It is school № 13 in Bakht District. We live in classrooms. It’s difficult to get washed. There are people from Jizzakh, Samarkand, from almost all across the country.
Correspondent: So you have been here for two months now. Have you been able to take a bath?
The cotton picker: We have bathed in a pond only once, when it was hot during the day, then it was impossible. However, those who can afford it, go to houses around here and pay to take a bath. You know there is sewage water around here and that is where we go to get washed. Then we all go over there and stand in a queue to have lunch.
Correspondent: Who is paying for food?
The cotton picker: It is the ministry which provides us with food, but it is later deducted from our wage. Currently we pick 20 kilos of cotton, which is just enough to cover the cost of food.
Correspondent: Are you being paid for picking cotton?
The cotton picker: Previously they used to pay us once every three days. One week has passed now and we have only been paid for two days. We have not received any money for five days.
Correspondent: You work from early morning till late, 10 to 12 hours a day. Did you manage to save any money to take home?
The cotton picker: Yes, of course, because previously they forced us to pick the fixed required amount of kilos. But now there are almost no more quotas since we began to pick the second harvest. If we pick 20 kilos, it is just enough to pay for the food.
Correspondent: This means that at the moment you are picking cotton just to pay for food then?
The cotton picker: That’s right…
Correspondent: There is no cotton left to pick. Why don’t you tell them to send you back home?
The cotton picker: Those who are from Fergana, Namangan and Tashkent regions are being replaced once every 10 days. Only people from Andijan and Samarkand regions are not being replaced. Should we go on our own, our bosses would receive a phone call from here and simply dismiss that member of staff. It is that tough now. Those of us from Andijan and Samarkand have been here for two months now and we have not been replaced. Everyone is discontent. Everyone is cursing the leadership day and night. They, the leadership, eat plov (famous national meal), but we are working here like slaves.
Correspondent: They threaten you with dismissal if you leave the cotton field, is that right?
The cotton picker: Indeed, this is the truth. Many people have been sacked for abandoning the cotton fields. We have received a phone call about this. This is why we have to put up with it. What else can we do?