BANGALORE, INDIA – Some IJM clients are nervous to go to court. Not Arjun. The young boy told IJM he wanted to go to court and tell the judge how the owner of the brick kiln where he once lived had beaten his parents. When his family was rescued from slavery three years ago, Arjun was just 8 – but he remembers clearly what his family faced, and he was ready for his voice to be heard.
Growing up in Slavery
For three years, Arjun's parents labored as slaves in a brick kiln outside of Bangalore. The abusive owner of the brick kiln had offered them a small one-time cash advance, promising that they could live at the brick kiln and work to pay it back. But the loan was a trap – a trick designed to turn the family into slaves.
When Arjun's mother got sick, the family had to borrow even more money from the owner for her treatment. When they needed to fix their dilapidated house to be safe from the elements, they had to borrow from the owner. The harder they worked, the more the debt grew. He made sure they would never have enough money to repay the loans they had to taken from him to work in the brick kiln. And when Arjun's father asked to see the records to determine how close they were getting to paying back what they allegedly owed – he was beaten.
IJM staff who first investigated the facility asked the owner about his workforce. Unabashedly, he explained: "You beat them and they will be fine. Otherwise they will not work and will run away from the place."
Freedom and a Future
IJM built a case to present to local authorities, showing clear evidence that Arjun's family was trapped in a system of forced labor slavery, illegal under Indian law. In September 2008, IJM worked with the local government to free Arjun and his family, along with 15 others trapped inside the violent brick kiln.
Over the years, IJM has continued to support the families as they rebuild lives in freedom. The road has not been easy. Arjun's father was killed in a tragic train accident in 2009. His mother had just given birth to a baby. Now she works as a daily laborer, usually earning about $1 a day – not high wages, but far more than what was ever possible in the brick kiln. She is raising three sons as a single mother, but she is cared for by her family and by IJM.
Arjun told IJM that he wished he could go to court and tell the judge how the owner had beaten his father and mother. IJM's Director of Casework smiled at the brave young boy and told him: "You are my hero for wanting to speak out against the injustice done to your family." Arjun smiled wide.
Six months ago, Arjun got what he wanted: A chance to speak out against what had happened to his family. He came with his mother and brothers, and six others who had worked at the same kiln, to testify against the owner. Made to believe for so many years that he was powerless, Arjun had the opportunity to stand up and be heard.
The Battle for Justice Continues
Although the law in India clearly criminalizes forced labor slavery, the battle for justice in the court is often difficult. Despite solid evidence documenting the abuses and compelling testimony from the families who had suffered physical violence and worked as slaves in the brick kiln, the court acquitted the owner of his charges.
Devastated but determined to keep fighting for justice for Arjun and the others who deserve it, IJM is currently supporting a trial to appeal the ruling. The IJM legal team continues to work hard to ensure the compelling evidence against the suspected slave owner is properly presented.
And for Arjun and his family, simply knowing that their voices continue to be heard means so much.
On a recent visit from IJM Bangalore staff, the strong mother held her youngest son, now 3 years old, in her lap. She said her boys are doing well in school, and she is determined to help them finish school so they can pursue a future they choose.
Arjun said he wants to be a police officer. Then he started to sing a beautiful song in Hindi that he learned in one of his classes. His mother beamed with pride.