As soon as Sub-Collector Mr. VP Jayaseelan heard about families being forced to work in a local wood-cutting unit, he knew exactly what to do: mobilize his team, organize a rescue operation, and free the laborers as quickly as possible.
With staff from IJM Chennai along to support, the group of police and district officials traveled to the worksite on Tuesday to find 15 people living in desperate poverty under the control of a powerful businessman.
Four young children under 3 were at the worksite alongside their parents. All of the laborers were forced to live together in one dilapidated shack and could never leave the owner’s land. Many reported vicious beatings, including being beaten with the very lumber they had chopped.
Authorities learned that these modern-day slaves had taken a loan of 4,500 rupees (about $70) from this businessman six years before, and were working endlessly to repay a debt he claimed had ballooned to 6,000 rupees. This predatory system is called bonded labor, and it traps millions across South Asia in desperate situations.
The rescue team quickly confirmed the facts of the case and brought the victims to safety at a local hotel, where they bought them a warm lunch. Officials gave the 11 rescued adults release certificates to break their bonds to their former owner, who has been arrested and sits in police custody.
In addition to these release certificates—which guarantee the rescued families government benefits like food rations and rehabilitation money—the local officials went above and beyond to provide clothes for the survivors and arrange short-term lodging. He promised to give them a plot of land, since they have no other place to go.
Overall, IJM staff were moved and impressed by the quick response and victim-sensitivity these officials displayed. Many had been trained by IJM in the past and represent a new generation of law enforcement. Where local governments once struggled to accept and tackle bonded labor slavery in parts of India, we are now seeing champions rise up to protect the poor from this horrific abuse and end slavery for good.