CHENNAI, INDIA – IJM Chennai got a call on a Tuesday afternoon. The caller was trapped in a brick factory, desperate for help. Another woman who was enslaved in the factory was critically ill. The factory owner was refusing to let her get medical help. "If you don't come tonight," the caller said, "she will die."
IJM had learned that about 50 people were confined to the brick factory, ranging from 6 months to 65 years old. Children as young as 14 years old were forced to work long hours, doing back-breaking work molding and carrying bricks. They said the owner gave them about $2 a week – that's about a quarter a day. They were barely surviving.
Since the brick factory was located hours away in another state, IJM staff contacted a government official there and told him about the desperate phone call from a slave begging for help. The official said he would lead a rescue operation immediately and asked IJM to send staff to help with the follow-up.
When the government official and his team showed up at the factory, it was dark and pouring down rain outside. At first they saw no one. Then people started emerging, begging to be taken from the factory. IJM met the rescued slaves at a school. The government official had taken them there to answer questions about the months they had spent in slavery.
Leadership That Makes a Difference
"We were all really impressed with the way the [government official in charge] was very involved," said IJM Chennai Director of Casework Alice Suganya. She added that by the time her team of IJM social workers and lawyers reached the school where the families were waiting, the official had provided dinner to everyone and arranged for a pediatrician to come and check on the twenty-one children.
We’re seeing more and more officials like this one – officials who are really leading the charge to end slavery in their states. It is inspiring, and it is making a difference.– IJM Director of Operations in South Asia
"When IJM first began working to free slaves in India ten years ago, this kind of leadership from the government was virtually unheard of," said Saju Mathew, IJM Director of Operations in South Asia. He added, "We're seeing more and more officials like this one – officials who are really leading the charge to end slavery in their states. It is inspiring, and it is making a difference."
The government official and IJM staff worked through the night to interview each rescued slave and record their stories. The critically ill woman was also taken to the hospital to get the care she desperately needed. It was about 5:30 in the morning when they finished processing all of the information and evidence. The next day, on Wednesday, April 24, the government official issued release certificates to each woman, man and child who had been enslaved in the factory. The certificate also entitles the holder to government benefits and monetary compensation.
That same night, the rescued slaves prepared to board a train to go home to their villages. IJM will continue to follow up with the individuals to make sure they have the tools they need to build strong lives in freedom.