The brief but intense performance by artistes from the Dolkattai Irular Cultural Troupe on Tuesday was almost a cathartic experience for G. Vasantha, who had experienced freedom after years of being a bonded labourer herself.

Vasantha, and others like her, who were rescued from bondage over the years, looked on as the eight artistes from the Irular community filled the small auditorium with their booming voices and affective depiction of the vicious cycle of bonded labour.

The street-theatre performance, aimed at the vulnerable communities, addresses not just how families get trapped in bondage and the trauma they undergo, but also how they can break out of it and avail of government schemes. “This is exactly what happened to my family,” said Vasantha.

“I worked in a rice mill in Red Hills as did my sons. We worked seven days a week and only one member of the family was allowed to go to nearby shops to buy groceries,” she recalled. Today, she and her husband, who was also a bonded labourer, sell fish and have a bank account.

The State-wide street theatre performances were held as part of the International Justice Mission’s two-month-long Live Free campaign which concluded in the city on Tuesday. The National Adivasi Solidarity Council and Tamil Nadu- Action Aid India were partners and the campaign was conducted with the help of various NGOs.

After travelling over 5000 kilometres, across 32 districts, and performing for over 6,000 community members, R. Rani, who heads the Dolkattai Irular Cultural Troupe, said their mission was not over yet — not until bonded labour is eradicated.

“My father was also a bonded labourer but we did not realise it then. He brought home no money, and my mother brought us up,” she said.

“We modified the play a little depending on the industry most prominent in the district and also gave relevant phone numbers. Awareness is most important,” she said.

Andy Griffiths, Field Office Director, IJM, said that though the State government has been more progressive than most others when it comes to identification, rescue, and processing cases of bonded labourers, more needs to be done. The campaign recommended implementation of a State-level action plan, a survey of bonded labourers and vigilance committees in every district.

Kannagi Packianathan, secretary Adi Dravidar welfare department, Shanthini Kapoor, secretary, Special Programme Imple- mentation, Lakshmidhar Mishra, former labour secretary, K. Krishnan, national convener, National Adivasi Solidarity Council, and Fr. Francis Jeyapathy SJ, rector, Loyola College, also spoke at the event.

Keywords: bonded labour