CHENNAI, INDIA – On Thursday, September 20, IJM Chennai helped the government rescue 17 children, women and men from forced labor slavery. They had been forced to work 12-hour days and live inside a rice mill in Kancheepuram, trapped for at least five years.
At 4 p.m. on Wednesday, the Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) – the Indian government official charged with enforcing forced labor laws – called IJM Chennai and asked for assistance with a rescue operation the next day. Friday was the RDO's last day in office before the he would be transferred to another district, and he wanted to follow up on reports of slavery in a rice mill in his district before leaving.
IJM quickly organized staff to meet the government official on Thursday. When the rescue team arrived at the rice mill, the owner was on the premises. He tried to shut out the vehicles by closing the gates to the mill, but the laborers came out and approached the RDO and the IJM team. Despite the owner's protests, the government official asked the laborers to tell him about their lives in the mill, listened to their answers and determined they were trapped there – deserving of rescue from this form of slavery under Indian law.
The rescue team escorted the families safely to the district government office, where each person answered additional questions that soon confirmed they had indeed been held as slaves. The RDO gave official release certificates to 13 people, legal documents that emancipate them and entitle them to government benefits.
As instructed, the families returned the next day to collect their monetary compensation – funds the government provides to help those released from slavery build new lives in security. It was the first day in office for the new RDO, and distributing this monetary assistance to the freed slaves was one of his first acts of public service.