CHENNAI, INDIA – When IJM discovered families were being forced to work as slaves at a tree-cutting farm, they alerted local government officials. Together, a team of IJM staff, police and government leaders planned a rescue operation. When the rescue team arrived on Thursday, August 30, they found nearly 30 men, women and even children enslaved in not one, but two, tree-cutting farms.
While the rescue team was helping the families at the first farm gather their meager belongings and load into the waiting trucks that would carry them to freedom, four more people walked up to the bustling group. They told IJM and the government officials that they worked at a nearby tree farm, and they said that they were desperate for help to get out. One of the men in the first group stood up for them, explaining that they were in the same situation as all the others, literally trapped in slavery.
All of the laborers went back to the government office, where they answered questions that soon revealed they had been forced to work as slaves. In accordance with India's anti-slavery law, the government official in charge of the proceedings gave them official documents that emancipate them from the tree-cutting farm and entitle them to government compensation as former forced labor slaves.
One of the women with a young daughter was pregnant, and she told the government officials how her husband had run away earlier that week, trying to get help for his family. She was among the many who received an official release certificate that day, and she said she was eager to return to her home in hopes that her husband would soon return there. IJM helped her file a petition with police in her village, to protect her from the owner of the tree-cutting farm who is reportedly looking for her husband – a man treated as property.
"Today, 27 people breathe their lives in freedom," exclaimed Praisey Bai, one of IJM's Aftercare Managers. She commended the government officials for their work on the rescue operation and making this new life possible. Praisey and other IJM social workers will continue to follow up with the families, who are now settled back in their villages and starting to make plans for new jobs that will help them raise families in freedom.