“Neither my husband nor I were allowed by our employers to go and visit our children. Many times when family members would visit us, they would see our pitiable conditions and stay back for a few days to work with us” says A. Sumathi, a native from Pudukottai who had to work in sugarcane fields for 15 years as a bonded labourer.
The story of Sumathi is one among many such bonded labourers who are still stuck working under inhuman conditions across the State.
Addressing a press meet on Friday, T. Kural Amuthan , Assistant Director of Government and Community Relations, International Justice Mission (IJM) said, “While a state level action plan has to be implemented, vigilance committees should be set up in all districts to keep a check on the practice of bonded labour”.
A state-wide campaign by IJM was launched, where street plays were performed across 32 districts by the Dolkattai Irular Cultural Troupe. “Through skits, dance and music, we aimed to spread awareness to people in the most vulnerable communities” said R. Rani, who heads the troupe.
“During a few performances, we had people telling us that they had family members who were enslaved and we put them across to NGOs in the area for assistance” she said. The campaign concluded on Saturday with a performance at the Gandhi Memorial Museum.
Most bonded labourers are paid an advance before they start work and are forced to work towards repaying it back with heavy interest. “Most people are unaware that they have already repaid the loans and continue working. When they ask their employers about their pay, they are physically abused or tortured” said a member of the Thesiya Adivasi Thozhar Sangam, an organization which has been working to rescue and rehabilitate bonded labourers.
Stressing the need to ensure proper rehabilitation of the released and rescued bonded labourers, SOCO Trust Deputy Director Selva Gomathy said that the government should make provisions to give financial assistance, land or employment to support them.