CHENNAI, INDIA, September 1, 2016 -- Women and men were visibly shaking with fear as IJM and local authorities rescued them from a brutal slave owner last Wednesday. Today, they are finally safe as this man waits in jail to answer for his crimes.
The 15 people rescued from this wood-cutting facility all told similar stories of how they became trapped here: Coming from a desperately poor community nearby, they had borrowed small loans from the wealthy owner—as little as $15—in exchange for chopping wood in his facility.
But as this man charged more and more false interest on their debts, they had become trapped from four to eight years trying to repay him. This is called bonded labour slavery
The flagrant abuse of power here extended far beyond these false debts. The rescued families shared how their life in the facility was a constant cycle of fear, exhaustion, and abuse.
For weeks at a time, they were forced to work 12-hour days cutting 15 to 16 tons of wood. Then, they toiled all through the night to load this wood for sale. If they worked too slowly, the owner ridiculed and beat them mercilessly. They were never allowed to leave the facility and weren’t even able to build shelters. Instead, they slept in an open field before starting their labour the next morning at sunrise.
One man says the owner sliced his hand with a sickle when he worked too slowly. Another woman was nine months pregnant and still being forced to chop wood in the hot sun when the rescue team arrived.
IJM heard about the desperate conditions these labourers were facing and worked with District Administration officials to mobilize a rescue operation on August 24. As they brought the families to safety and heard their stories, local police formally arrested the abusive facility owner. He will soon face trial for his crimes.
"It was very moving to see the [condition of these] labourers, especially this pregnant woman working in the scorching heat of the sun,” says Gladys Finney, IJM’s senior aftercare manager. "It was also very encouraging to witness the District Administrator being so proactive in rescuing them and planning their rehabilitation on the spot.”
Today, the families are safely back in their home village and beginning their recovery. The government has issued release certificates to break the false debts that kept them trapped. And IJM is ensuring the pregnant woman and others receive the urgent medical care they need.
From here, these families will join IJM’s two-year aftercare program designed to restore their physical and emotional health, livelihood stability, and hope for the future. Our social workers also work to ensure these families can access all of the government benefits and opportunities to which they are entitled.
IJM will also support local authorities in the legal case against this brutal slave owner. Seeing him held accountable will send a powerful message to the community—especially to other predatory business owners—that bonded labour slavery will no longer be tolerated.