Fifty-eight girls, aged between 13 and 25, were rescued on Monday from a food processing and export unit here in a joint operation by officials from Chhattisgarh and Namakkal district. All the 58 from Chhattisgarh were allegedly employed as bonded labour in the unit.

The unit that employed them, Gem Agro Exports, is located at Manikattipudur on the Tiruchengode Road, about eight km from the Namakkal Collectorate.

Sub Collector of Namakkal Ajay Yadav, who led the rescue teams, told The Hindu that action was initiated after he received a letter from the Collector of Narayanpur in Chhattisgarh, Yashwanth Kumar, on Monday morning.

“They were staying in two small rooms that were 150 sq.ft. each, with a common toilet. They were forced to work for food and a monthly pay of Rs. 100 to Rs. 200 per head, based on their age,” Mr.Yadav said.

A tip-off from a woman employed here earlier brought the issue to light. Rajeshwari Salam (29) of Janagpur village in Kankir district, who was brought here in August was not happy with the job. She protested and even tried to escape twice. After this, the middleman who brought her here, Tijo Korram, asked her to pay him Rs. 3,000, stating that he had spent this amount to get her the job.

He took her back to Chhattisgarh on November 13 after she promised to pay him. Intending to help the other workers, she took the issue to two NGOs – Jan Jagrati Kendra and Arshil Welfare Society. The representatives coordinated with the International Justice Mission, who undertook the rescue mission with the help of partner organisations in Tamil Nadu.

Abdul Jaleel, Zone Head – National Interventions of the International Justice Mission (IJM), which coordinated with the NGOs in Chhattisgarh and government officials in both the States, said the girls were promised monthly salary of Rs. 5,000 – from which Rs. 1,500 was to be deducted for food and lodging.

Relief provided

Namakkal Collector V. Dakshinamoorthi said that the girls were given financial relief of Rs. 1,000 each. “We have made arrangements to take them to Chhattisgarh by train from Salem,” he said.

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