Andhra Pradesh

Thuthiya a shining example of a change-maker

Thuthiya stitching face masks at her home in Gangadhara Nellore mandal in Chittoor district.  

Thuthiya and her husband Kuppaiah Raghu knew they would regret their decision. But the couple had no option. Raghu’s mother was sick, and he needed money to pay the hospital bills. So the couple borrowed ₹30,000 from the owner of a brick kiln in Chittoor district and walked into a “debt bondage” at the kiln. This was in 2006.

Hard times

Life as bonded labourers was difficult.

“A day of rest or sickness meant abuses from the owner. We were sleep-deprived and stressed out, and it began to show on our health. After slogging from dawn to dusk, we were paid ₹50 per day and, at times, even this meagre sum was denied. Money was paid irregularly and the debt never reduced,” she recounts the trauma.

Thuthiya buried deep inside her heart a persisting desire to visit her family after she saw how a fellow-labourer, who visited his family in Tamil Nadu without informing the owner, was brutally beaten up and locked up in a room. The next thing she knew was about his death.

“I shuddered at the thought of seeking freedom and gave up all hope in life,” she says, speaking to The Hindu.

The turning point

Even as she struggled to come to terms with the possibility of leading a slave’s life for as long as she would be alive, a miracle happened in 2009.

The local authorities, with the support of an NGO, International Justice Mission (IJM), raided the brick kiln and rescued Thuthiya and others.

After the release, Thuthiya testified in front of the government officials and the NGO members about the horror tales of bonded labourers and the wretched life she and her co-workers lived at the kiln.

Realising the importance of freedom, Thuthiya began to contribute her bit by helping the NGO in saving the lives of people in bondage.

In 2019, she was elected president of Jeevana Jwala, an association of survivors of bonded labour in the State.

“I was very nervous thinking if I was qualified to lead so many people, but I wanted to help in whatever way I could,” she says.

Besides working as a tailor to supplement the income of her husband Raghu, who works as an auto-rickshaw driver, Thuthiya now leads by example some 800 members of Jeevana Jwala across the State.

She is known for her enormous patience and diligence that help her to reach out to people in bondage and need help.

Helping hands

During the lockdown, Thuthiya, along with other members of the Jeevana Jwala, distributed dry ration and other essentials to families rescued from bondage. She also stitched hundreds of masks that were used by police officials, hospital workers and Jeevana Jwala members for their safety from COVID-19.

“Thuthiya is a shining example of how women can be effective change-makers,” says Samson Daniel, Senior Associate, Zonal Interventions, A.P. and Kerala, IJM, that works on issues of human trafficking and bonded labour, and partners with local governments to combat these social menaces.

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Printable version | Apr 19, 2021 2:19:03 AM |

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