CHENNAI, INDIA – Seven people were freed from an abusive brick kiln in October, including a 13-year-old boy and 15-year-old girl who were forced to work alongside their parents.
These labourers had been treated like property for years by several powerful business owners in the area of Pollachi. Today, they are on their way to recovery back at home thanks to determined local authorities and IJM’s NGO partner Vizhuthugal.
The case began several years back, when one of the victims had to take a financial loan from a kiln owner to pay for urgent medical care. He then had to move his family to the kiln to work and repay what he had borrowed. But the owner kept manipulating his debt and kept them working for years.
About eight months ago, this kiln owner decided to close his business and—instead of releasing the family—passed them to one of his friends. The new kiln owner promised them fair wages that could pay down their debts but trapped them in bonded labour here as well.
Instead of paying them 800 rupees (less than A$15) for every 1,000 bricks they made (about a day’s labour), the owner gave the whole family just 300 rupees (A$5.50) for the whole week. This meagre amount was supposed to cover all of their food and necessities. If they ever had medical needs, the owner himself would accompany them to the clinic and back, to ensure they did not escape.
The labourers experienced severe verbal abuse when they worked too slowly or made a mistake. Even the children were forced to work—risking beatings if they did not comply. Two other labourers had already escaped the kiln by the time Vizhuthugal heard about their plight.
The kiln owner and many other local business owners came from a higher-caste community that has traditionally been very affluent and dominating. Local officials often find it hard to take any legal action against these business owners due to their dominance.
But in this case, the Sub Collector and other officials remained focused on the abuses these labourers had suffered and proceeded with the operation without fear. Once Vizhuthugal alerted them to the alleged abuse on 8 October 2021, the Sub Collector’s team rescued the labourers and brought them to safety at a government office.
IJM staff assisted the case over the phone. Officials interviewed the family and then provided Release Certificates to break their false debts to the owner. Officials are currently working on filing charges against the abusive owner.
“This rescue is one of a kind,” shared one IJM staff member. “In an area like Pollachi where there is so much caste discrimination, it was very encouraging to see the Sub Collector and police officials stay strong and proceed with the rescue and issue of Release Certificates.”
Vizhuthugal staff will continue to support the survivors as they return and rebuild in their home communities.
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