DELHI, INDIA – Yesterday, IJM helped bring freedom to 179 who had been trapped in a life of slavery inside an oppressive brick factory in India.
Although it was the first time IJM had ever worked in this particular region, the government authorities leading the operation responded quickly and ensured each slave’s story was properly recorded and criminal charges were filed against the brick factory owner.
One slave reflected on his rescue: “Today I believe God is alive, in different shapes and in different people.”
A Secret Call Leads to Massive Rescue
A few of the slaves inside the factory had gotten a hold of a phone number for an IJM staff member. IJM worked with a partner organization to meet some of the slaves in person and document the information shared over the phone.
The situation inside the brick factory was dire. The slaves were malnourished and exhausted, forced to work about twenty hours a day. Their drinking water was filthy, not even suitable for washing dishes. One of the women, several months pregnant, was forbidden from going to the local hospital.
Other women shared how they were watched at all hours, even when attempting to use the bathroom or bathe. If they complained, they were beaten. Children as young as 3 helped with the endless work, rotating clay bricks in the hot sun to dry.
IJM’s team from Delhi flew south and worked with our partner organization the Association for Rural Development (ARD) to present all of the evidence of abuse to the local authorities. Since we had never worked with the officials—and the state had only formally become a state the day before—the team was not sure how quickly the government would respond.
Desperate for Relief
When the government officials and NGO workers arrived at the factory, the men and women began pleading for help. Some cried out of desperation, others fell onto their knees and begged for rescue.
“The heat inside the brick facility was stifling. The temperature was 109 degrees before we even reached the brick baking ovens. We were still caught off guard by how weak and malnourished the victims appeared,” said IJM’s Anu George Canjanathoppil.
The officials led the forty-six families out of the factory to document their stories. This process can take days, especially for a group this large. But the officials worked efficiently and late into the night, treating all of the families with dignity and respect.
The pregnant women and everyone with injuries got medical help, including one man who had collapsed from serious dehydration and exhaustion. The authorities prepared meals for all of the families and secured a safer place where everyone could sleep on Tuesday night.
IJM Commends Swift Response by Indian Officials
The next morning, June 4, the government granted 150 release certificates—these legal documents emancipate each person who had been forced to work and denied basic freedoms.
IJM Delhi Director Ajoy Varghese praised the collaboration of all the authorities and agencies, from the local and district-level officials to the railways that arranged the transportation home for all of the families. “This operation was a near perfect example of a swift response by an Indian state’s public justice system when presented with evidence of bonded labor slavery in its vicinity by civil society.”
One of the district authorities noted how the quick response from his superiors had enabled him to do his job to help set these people free; he said, “This is a great achievement for us.” Two of IJM’s partner organizations will follow up with these families to provide longer-term care and help the parents find good work and the children enroll in school, some for the first time.