BANGALORE, INDIA – More than 100 men and women were rescued from slavery this week from factories and farms about 50 miles south of Bangalore, the booming metropolis and epicenter of technology in India.
State Government Initiates Complex Operation
One of IJM's advocacy partners, the National Adivasi Solidarity Council, has been advocating with local and national leaders to investigate a region outside Bangalore where forced labor is apparently rampant. In August 2013, India's National Human Rights Commission responded by alerting one government official that they suspected several brick factories and farms were using slave labor in his region.
On August 20, the lead official organized five teams of government officials and police officers to search multiple facilities within a five-hour span, starting at 5 a.m. The authorities brought dozens of families to a single large hall where they could answer questions about life inside the factories, and they called IJM and NASC for assistance.
The lead official had previously worked with IJM's teams in Chennai and Bangalore to rescue families from forced labor slavery. It would be a massive undertaking to organize and interview all of the adults and children, who were from villages all over Southern India and spoke many different languages.
IJM and NASC staff helped set up stations where the interviews took place and made sure the families had food and water as they waited. The hall is a massive event space, and the blue plastic chairs used mostly at wedding ceremonies became makeshift stations for the official interview process.
IJM attorneys supported the local and state-level officials—around 200 in total—as they patiently asked questions of every single person and documented their responses to determine whether they had been fairly employed or were in fact slaves. Many of the stories started to sound the same, as the adults shared how they had taken an advance payment they believed they could repay by working in the brick factory or farm.
This kind of "loan" is often the bait owners use to lure impoverished families into slavery. In many cases of forced labor slavery, entire families will work for years and years to repay that initial loan. They won't be paid a fair wage, and it will be impossible to ever earn enough to free themselves. Furthermore, they won't be allowed to move about freely or look for other work, and they effectively become cut off from the world outside the factory.
IJM Bangalore Field Office Director Peter Williams commended the dedication of the government officials and police who stayed late into the night and worked diligently to ensure anyone who had been forced to work would be set free. After nearly three days, the government officials presented release certificates to 118 women and men. These legal documents officially emancipate them from slavery and cancel the bogus loan that had trapped them in the first place. They are now free to choose where they work and how they raise their families.
Each family can choose to participate in IJM's two-year aftercare program designed to help them achieve sustainable independence and a strong future. As a first step, many of the families want to return to their home villages. Since they are from different states throughout India, several IJM teams will accompany them home to their respective regions.
The complex operation initiated by the Tamil Nadu state government demonstrated a serious commitment that forced labor slavery will not be tolerated in this southern state. It is the largest operation IJM Bangalore has supported. Peter added that "The impact of a forced labor slavery operation of this scale on the region will be profound."