Government launches a campaign of street plays on the need to end bonded labour

“Who will listen to our woes? There is no one to help us, none to support us. We have no choice but to be bonded labourers, for our children’s sake,” shouts a woman, dressed in bright purple. A man, wearing similar attire, answers her saying, “There is some hope. The government is working towards helping us.”

They were part of an eight-member street theatre group that performed a play to generate awareness about bonded labour and the need for its abolition in the State, in the city on Tuesday.

The troupe, called Dolkattai Irular Cultural, has performed street plays across 17 districts in the State and plans to cover 32 districts by October 10. The play focuses on reaching out to vulnerable communities such as SC/ST, who are easily lured into bonded labour.

The districts covered so far are Chennai, Tiruvallur, Kancheepuram, Villipuram, Vellore, Thiruvannamalai, Erode, Salem, Krishnagiri, Dharmapuri, Coimbatore, Tirupur, Nilgiris, Dindigul, Theni, Virudunagar, and Perambalur. “Our troupe comprises only indigenous community members.

“When we realised that it was our community people who are being affected, abused and denied their basic rights, we wanted to hep them in some way,” said Rani, the troupe leader.

The troupe was mobilised by International Justice Mission (IJM), a human rights organisation which launched a Statewide campaign titled Live Free (Ini Oru Vidi Seivom), against bonded labour. IJM has collaborated with NGOs in each district for the campaign.

Bonded labour is a reprehensible human rights violation that strips people of their rights and often involves physical, verbal, and even sexual abuse.

In the 37 years since the Bonded Labour System (Abolition Act) was passed, the Government has identified and released nearly 3,00,000 bonded labourers.

In Tamil Nadu, over 65,000 people have been released since 2001.

“Tamil Nadu government has constituted vigilance committees in many districts and conducted rehabilitation checks within six months for freed labourers. But the problem is much bigger and steps need to be taken accordingly,” said Hepzibah Sunder, director of government and community relations, IJM.

What kind of steps? “We recommend that the government implement State-level action plan by appointing a State-level official, conducts a State-level bonded labour survey, ensures smooth functioning of vigilance committees, and provides sufficient financial assistance for rehabilitation of released bonded labourers,” said T. Kuralamuthan of IJM.