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Bonded labour offender convicted after almost nine years

Nearly nine years after six bonded labourers were rescued from a rice mill in Vellore District, the bonded labour offender was convicted on 28th February 2017 under Sections 16, 17, 18 of Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 and Sections 341 and 374 of the Indian Penal Code.

“The last nine years has been full of challenges,” says Kandaswamy Prabhu, Advocate in the case. “The survivors endured repeated visits to the court, sudden tragic deaths in their families and various other disappointments. The fact that justice has been served, proves that vulnerable communities can be protected against violence, exploitation and injustice.”

In 2009, the investigating officer filed a Referred Charge Sheet, deeming the case a false one, and charges were dropped despite strong evidence. “When the RDO inspected the rice mill in 2008, he was shocked to see an eight-month pregnant woman forced to work without any consideration,” says Prabhu. “In all, six labourers had been denied freedom of employment as they worked to repay the loans they had taken.”

In March 2010, one of the survivors brought the case back to court with help from IJM. The court then summoned the accused and began trials. The accused was sentenced to six months of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 14,500. Since then, the accused has appealed for suspension of sentence, which has been granted for 30 days.

“While the Constitution of India grants freedom equally to all citizens in India, these labourers are denied basic rights and freedoms. Their lives are owned by their employers. Bonded Labour is a violation against human rights and it should be addressed to protect the vulnerable from exploitation and violence,” says Richard Ebenezer from IJM.

The only remaining survivors—Selvam and Ganesan— are now working as daily wage labourers. While Ganesan has a house and waits for electricity, Selvam waits for his land patta.