On 4 September 2017, the Supreme Court of India ordered two convicted bonded labour offenders...
Submitted by dahimaz on 26 September 2017
A case of generational bondage
Born into bondage in Powerhouse rice mill in Thiruvallur District, Tamil Nadu, Raman inherited the debts of his father and his grandfather. As a five year old child, he did odd jobs such as cleaning and collecting coal at the work site. By the time he was 12, he was deemed fit to carry heavy rice sacks, earning only ₹3 for every sack, leaving him with no hopes of ever clearing his family’s loans.
The owner of the rice mill had held families in bondage by instilling fear, using threats, and demeaning them verbally, and sometimes physically. Once when Raman approached the owner to ask for a raise, the owner angrily responded saying, “How dare you ask me for an increment? This is what I will pay you. You either take it or you leave it.” Having no choice, Raman resigned himself to accepting his reality. “We had no other choice but to continue working,” he recalls. He had no freedom of movement, no resources of his own, no proper housing and little hope.
Time went by and when Raman married, his wife and their four children inherited the debt. The family worked hard only to earn ₹15 for three days. Raman’s wife Kasthuri became very weak due to the hectic demands of the job. She found herself fainting and unable to care for her children. She “felt very bad” about the way things were and said, “I used to wonder how life would be if we lived on our own in a village. Our children would be able to play freely in the streets like normal children.” Raman felt the pain of their situation and all he ever dreamt of was for the family to be free.
The dawn of freedom
Freedom broke through their invisible gates of bondage on 11 March 2004. The Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO), Mr. Dasanathan, conducted a successful rescue operation relieving Raman and 82 other individuals from the rice mill, freeing them from bondage. Raman, a man who had never tasted freedom in his 32 years, was finally free.
The penalty faced by the owner of the rice mill at the time was meager: he paid a small fine and walked free that same day. Just two months after the incident, the owner employed more labourers following the same exploitative system suggesting that he viewed these people as mere supplies for his business, a business that he claimed no one could shut down.
Raman, a voice for the voiceless
Once released, Raman went to work, building a new life for his family. The IJM Aftercare team for rehabilitation worked closely with him following his release, helping the family to rebuild their lives and advise them on government benefits. Raman and his wife displayed great proactivity in putting their learnings to practice. Soon, they led the Self-Help Group loan cooperative in their village.
Raman did not stop at just helping his family find their feet. He supported and assisted hundreds of families in accessing government benefits, applying for government entitlements, land patta, houses, electricity, water facility and various other requirements. His proactive and warm nature earned him the position of a leader in his community.
Once a victim, now a leader
In 2014, Raman became the President of Released Bonded Labourers Association (RBLA), Thiruvallur—an association that functions to rescue, support and protect those suffering in bondage. This year, in an RBLA meeting held in Thiruvallur, Raman motivated a crowd of more than 300 people saying, “We cannot stay ignorant anymore. We are living in computer days now. We must get an education. We too can become Collectors.” His speech was followed by a roar of applause by those gathered in the hall.
Raman continues to be a proactive leader and an inspiration to the people in his community.