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South Asia

Wife’s desperate call frees her husband from bonded labour

CHENNAI, INDIA –On 27 August 2021, IJM’s partner READ assisted authorities on an urgent rescue operation, freeing one man from violence and abuse at a rural farm after he shared, “I am being tortured here.”

They heard about the case through a desperate call from the victim’s wife, who was also experiencing harassment and threats from the abusive farm owner. In her greatest hour of need, sensitised local authorities heard her call and responded quickly—a promising sign of how the local justice system is protecting vulnerable families better every year.

Deceived and degraded

Before arriving at the farm, 48-year-old Ganesan had supported his family for years as a daily-wage labourer, meaning he picked up manual labour jobs around his community for various businesses and farms. As the Covid-19 pandemic raged however, he and millions of others lost these types of jobs and struggled to make ends meet.

Early in 2021, a local farm owner offered Ganesan a job and a generous payment advance of 30,000 rupees (about A$550). He would work as a farmhand tending crops and would receive a monthly salary of 10,000 rupees, along with food and accommodation. Ganesan agreed—happy that he could finally support his daughters’ education. He left his wife and daughters in the nearby village and moved to the farm to work.

Broken promises

But almost as soon as Ganesan arrived at the farm, reality hit. He was sent to do the dirtier work of tending cows and goats and never received the salary or meals he was promised. Instead, he had to keep borrowing money from the farm owner to buy food and then had to work off these debts along with repaying his original advance.

The owner’s threats

Even worse, the farm owner began harassing Ganesan and his family to exert his control. The owner kept Ganesan working at the farm at all times. If he needed to leave, the owner made his wife come and work in his place. He got drunk and berated them constantly, and even threatened to burn down their house and kill them if Ganesan tried to escape.

Terrified, Ganesan borrowed money from a neighbour to repay the farm owner and leave—but the owner refused. After seven months in bondage, there was nothing Ganesan could do.

Rescue at last

Just as they were losing hope, Ganesan’s wife met IJM’s local partner READ and shared about their plight. READ helped her report the case to the local government, who responded quickly and took a team of police and labour officials to interview Ganesan on 27 August.

(Authorities have not always been this responsive to complaints from vulnerable communities. An IJM staff member explained, “It’s encouraging to see that even when the person who is actually trapped—the vulnerable victim—appeals to the system, it has responded in an area where political influence and impunity is very high. In this district impunity has always been high, and it has been a constant challenge. To see this change is indeed motivating.”)

When the rescue team arrived on site, Ganesan told them bravely:

“I will do anything to get out of this place. I will even fall prostrate at the feet of the officials and tell them the truth of how I am being tortured here. He did not even spare my daughters. He verbally abuses my wife and my daughters; I don’t want my daughters to pay for my mistake. I just want this to stop. I will do anything if there is a way to escape this pain and torture.”

Release Certificate: Ganesan’s freedom is official

Officials immediately brought Ganesan to safety at a government office to document his case and get him the help he needed. They confirmed it was a case of bonded labour and gave Ganesan an official Release Certificate—which breaks his false debts to the owner and guarantees him benefits under the law. It has been hard to get these documents in this district in the past, but READ staff helped present a compelling case to get the protection Ganesan deserved.

“The victim testified so boldly that the officials could not refute serving justice to him,” shared one READ staff member. “In a place where it is difficult to receive release certificates, the victim’s voice was heard clearly, and justice became undeniable.”

District officials who led the rescue operation then worked with leaders in Ganesan’s village to file an official police report against the farm owner and a protection order for Ganesan’s family. They will also help Ganesan open a bank account, so he can receive funds for his rehabilitation per India’s laws. READ will also support Ganesan’s recovery as he and his family learn to feel safe again.

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