Nearly 11 years after they were rescued from slavery at a large rice mill, 24 children, women and men have now secured justice. The mill owner who abused and enslaved them was finally convicted under India’s Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act on March 8, 2018—a critical breakthrough for protecting the poor from violence in this community.
IJM and local law enforcement had conducted a rescue operation at this rice mill in May 2007 to free laborers like Gopi, who were desperate to be released.
In his poverty, Gopi had taken a loan of 4,000 rupees (about $60) from the mill owner and spent the next four years working alongside his wife and children trying to repay it. They were forced to stay in the facility and were always under the watchful eye of one of the owner’s henchmen. Gopi’s wife, Nirmala, was forced to work even through two pregnancies.
None of Gopi’s children were allowed to attend school, even though it was near the rice mill. Instead, the 10-, 8- and 6-year-olds swept the facility or spread the cleaned rice to dry in the hot sun. They were frequently yelled at or slapped by the owner if they slowed down or stopped working. [The rice mill owner was eventually acquitted of all child labor charges.]
Unable to bear the agony and pain, Gopi and his family once ran away from the facility—leaving everything behind. They only made it as far as a local bus station, before the owner’s henchmen found them and ragged them back to the mill.
Today, the rice mill owner finally faces accountability for crimes like these. He was ordered to pay a fine of 6,000 rupees (about $90) or face three months in prison. While the sentence appears low compared to the extent of his abuse, it helps to set an important precedent in the court’s jurisdiction, where convictions against slave owners are rare.