South Asia

Government Rescues Ten People Trafficked into Road Construction

19 April 2023

TAMIL NADU & TELANGANA, INDIA — Government officials rescued ten people who had been trafficked and forced to build roads for almost six years.

Trafficked from Telangana state, these labourers had been shuttled repeatedly between two states unfamiliar to them—Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. They knew neither the language nor the locality, leaving them stranded and desperate for help.

The labourers had found themselves in this dreadful situation after three traffickers had persuaded them into accepting advances ranging from 50,000 to 80,000 rupees ($930 to $1,488 AUD) in exchange for 11-12 months of labour. The traffickers had also promised good food, accommodation, and daily wages of 200 rupees ($3.72 AUD) per person, which amounts to 6000 rupees ($111 AUD) per month.

However, reality was a rude shock for the labourers. Their shelter was made of tin sheets which provided almost no protection from the elements. They were forced to work for an exhausting 12-14 hours every day with only two meals each day for sustenance. Despite the hazardous and strenuous nature of the job, they toiled every day without protective equipment or wages. Even after 12 months had gone by, the traffickers forcefully retained them to work, claiming that they had not yet repaid their advance money in full. So, year after year, they worked against their will and longed for freedom.

Image of the tin sheet shelter the labourers used as accommodation.
Government officials enquire about the labourers’ living conditions at the tin-sheet sheds they called home.

Free after six years of exploitation

IJM’s partner Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD) heard about the labourers’ plight from a community member and alerted the government. The team then assisted the government in organizing this rescue operation on 19 April to free the victims and bring them to safety.

Responding promptly to the complaint, the district government formed a rescue team including police officers, government officials from the Labour Department, Women and Child Welfare Department, and Revenue Department, and from a local NGO in Tamil Nadu, Aradhana Resource Center Society.

Officials and police led a detailed enquiry and confirmed that the labourers were indeed victims of bonded labour and human trafficking. After being exploited every day for six years, the labourers were finally freed when the government issued them Released Certificates—an official document declaring them free from debt and their false bonds to the traffickers.

To support the labourers as they rebuild their lives in freedom, the government opened bank accounts and transferred 30,000 rupees ($558 AUD) to each labourer. The government and FSD worked together to help take them back to their homes in Telangana.

The police filed First Information Reports (FIRs) against the traffickers, three labour contractors and one company contractor, under Sections 16, 17, 18 of Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act (related to bonded labour) and Section 374 of the Indian Penal Code (related to human trafficking).

Rescued bonded labourers' at the accommodation the government provided after rescue,
The rescued bonded labourers’ with government officials in front of the accommodation the government provided on their first night of freedom.

Praising the sensitive approach of the government, one of the FSD representatives said:

“The government was proactive in their response to the complaint. They provided care and protection to the labourers. The enquiry was conducted in a safe location and was victim centric. Food and accommodation were ensured, bank accounts were opened to transfer the initial rehabilitation amount and arrangements for repatriation were made. The government even filed an FIR against the three labour contractors and one company contractor.”

The effective collaboration between FSD and the government resulted in the long-awaited freedom for the ten labourers, who were finally able to return home and be safe after being trapped in a cycle of exploitation for six years.

Abishek Joseph, IJM’s State Program Director in Telangana, said:

“The Sub Collector of Hosur, Saranya R, IAS, was very proactive and ensured coordination with all the concerned departments and followed through all the procedures as outlined in the Standard Operating Procedures document, ensuring that the victims were cared for and protected. Similar to this case, we hope to see more such well-coordinated rescue efforts that will bring freedom to many.”

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