Twenty years ago, you would’ve found Kumar, then just a little boy, with raw hands and a body racked with pain as he was forced to work seven days a week in a South Asian brick kiln.
Today you will find him the happiest he’s ever been as dream after dream has recently come true: he married the love of his life, Jancy, and having recently completed a master’s degree in social work, he’s now serving with the IJM Chennai team as a social worker, fulfilling his passion of helping other survivors on their journey to restoration.
From Rescued to Rescuer
When Kumar was 5 years old, his beloved father died suddenly, and his mother abandoned him shortly after. He went to live with an uncle who tried to care for him well, but when Kumar was 7, an abusive kiln owner forced Kumar into slavery over a small debt incurred by a relative.
Kumar suffered in slavery for two horrific years. “They tortured me so much” he remembers. “I did not think about freedom. I was afraid to think of my future. I had nothing to look forward to. I felt like I had lost everything in life.”
But a life of enslavement and fear was not to be Kumar’s destiny. Through a joint raid by IJM and the government, Kumar was rescued in 2003. That marked the beginning of a two-decade relationship with IJM that continues today.
When Kumar was first rescued, his primary goal was to obtain an education. He’d never been to school, but with much perseverance, he completed secondary school, worked with IJM Bangalore for four years, and earned a bachelor's degree in commerce. It wasn’t enough, though:
“I thought of the many who were still stuck in the system of bonded labour. If I wanted to help them, I had to study social work.”
Now 29, and having completed his master’s degree in 2021, Kumar says:
“I have achieved three of the most important life goals: getting an education, finding a job, and settling down, and finally, having a partner with whom I can share the rest of my life’s journey.”
Kumar met Jancy in 2017 when they were both studying commerce, and they were married in February 2022.
“After marriage, I am truly beyond happy,” he said. “Rescue changed everything, but Jancy has added meaning to my life. For the first time, I feel like my life is full of hopes and dreams that we aspire to conquer together.”
Kumar’s heart overflowed with joy and gratitude when IJM staff from both the Bangalore and Chennai offices came to celebrate his marriage: “I was most thrilled to see those who cared for me from when I was a kid attend my wedding. I wanted their blessing. That was my heart’s desire. They travelled from far and near to be there on my special day.”
As a final step in earning his master’s degree, Kumar completed a field internship with the Released Bonded Labourers Association (a network of survivors mentored by IJM). After that he desired to work with the IJM Chennai team, and his qualifications earned him the opportunity to live out another dream: serving as a Community Development Social Worker with the IJM Chennai office.
Kumar feels he is able to rewrite the stories of others like him as he helps survivors through the process of obtaining government services for freed bonded labourers.
“As each family holds their ID cards or entitlements, it gives me a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment that I have played a part in their journey,” he says.
Kumar also speaks at government meetings to raise awareness about the issue of bonded labour and share his own story—particularly about how the timely rescue and aftercare program helped him.
“When I highlight these experiences, they are filled with immense joy,” he says. “They are overjoyed to see my transformation from a bonded labourer to a spokesperson. Listening to their compliments gives me a lot of happiness. This motivates me to do more for my people.”
Kumar also highlights the importance of education—a subject he talks to both rescued children and their parents about. His biggest desire, he told us, is to see them become degree-holders like him.
Kumar describes his life now as being “lit up in a glorious way,” but is well aware of how differently his story could have ended:
“Had I not been rescued, my life would still be in the deep pit of darkness, and my next generation and the generations to come would have been in complete darkness,” he says.
Acknowledging how IJM helped him when he needed it, Kumar is determined to now offer that same assistance to other bonded labourers—people with whom he can identify so closely. “My dream is to raise more ‘Kumars’ like me,” he says. “This system of bonded labour should be completely eradicated. This is my desire; this is my dream."
Looking Ahead and Looking Behind
Kumar also took a moment to reflect on the milestone IJM is celebrating this year, since its founding in 1997. “On this 25th anniversary of IJM, I really want to thank God for Gary and his vision to bring IJM into existence and for every supporter and donor who has partnered in this mission and given so selflessly,” Kumar says.
“It is because of each of your sacrifices that people like me are free today to chase our dreams. Every little deed of yours is a seed to grow many more ‘Kumars’ like me. I hope that this will be the start to end bonded labour in my generation.”