Without the good will and action of government officials, IJM could not serve those who urgently need an advocate. In India, a recent intervention in a salt mine again illustrated the impact of government officials of integrity who serve the poor in their jurisdictions.
When a government official received an urgent petition pleading for help from a group of victims who were being held as slaves at a local salt factory, he responded immediately. Recognizing their desperate situation, he sent his staff into the mill that day to interview the laborers and verify their enslavement.
When the government staff arrived, violations of national anti-slavery laws were obvious in the factory. They brought the victims – 33 children, women and men – to the office of the government official. Government-initiated investigations like this are uncommon in this region of India. However, this committed group of officials was determined to see that the laws against slavery were rightly applied.
Based on IJM’s reputation for its work with victims of slavery, the government official’s staff contacted the office and requested assistance in conducting the investigation and ensuring that each of the victims received documentation entitling them to government assistance. Upon receiving the call, IJM staff arrived at the government offices as quickly as possible, but it was already nearly 9 p.m. Despite the late start and the fact that the next day was a holiday, the government staff was willing to stay as long as necessary to ensure that this case was documented and the victims were relieved immediately.
When victims were asked to tell their stories, they all presented the same account. They had been offered fair wages for daily labor at the salt mine by its owner, who pledged to issue payment in full after the laborers completed six months of work. During the six-month period, the owner of the mill forced the victims to live at the facility, where they worked seven days a week, some of the children laboring alongside their parents. When the workers inquired about their salaries at the end of the six-month period, the factory owner physically and verbally attacked them. These workers realized that they were being held as slaves in violation of the law and contacted the government for assistance.
When IJM staff arrived, they assisted the government officials by setting up inquiry stations, caring for victims and documenting proof of slavery. The government official who had prompted the investigation signed and authorized 23 release certificates and ordered a police report to be filed on the case before finally leaving at 3 a.m.
This case was IJM’s first in a salt mine. Today, 11 families live in freedom from slavery because of the action of a government official committed to serving the poor. These families remain in contact with IJM and receive services through its aftercare programs. The children have returned to school, and the adults are supported by IJM staff as they recover and pursue sustainable and secure employment.