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Rock Quarry Owner Guilty After Exploiting 29 People in Bondage

CHENNAI, INDIA – On May 31, a specialized court in southern India sentenced a powerful rock quarry owner to seven years in prison for exploiting disadvantaged families in bonded labour.

The Villupuram Special Court for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (India’s official roster of disadvantaged ethnic communities) found this man guilty for forcing 29 people to work as slaves and for exploiting their tribal status. This is the first time IJM’s team in Chennai has witnessed a conviction under the SC/ST Act in a forced labour case—a major breakthrough.

Back in July 2010, IJM had supported local law enforcement in a rescue operation at this rock quarry and brought 34 children, women and men to safety. The government granted 29 Release Certificates to break the labourers’ bonds to the owner, including four children who were being forced to work (five others were not working and did not need RCs). The families also got rehabilitation funds to help restart life in freedom.

A case was lodged against the abusive father and son who ran the quarry, but the father later passed away only the son went on to trial.

IJM supported the 12-year legal case for many years, but eventually transitioned it fully to the ownership of public prosecutors. They faced a significant challenge with the defence lawyer—an extremely powerful and experienced local attorney—who frequently bombarded the survivors with questions to intimidate them.

But even against these tactics, the witnesses spoke the truth without fear, and the judge passed a verdict in their favour. IJM commended the prosecutors and judge for their sensitivity to the survivors and their commitment to the truth of the case.

The charges and concurrent sentences handed down by the judge included:

  • Section 370 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) (buying or disposing of any person as a slave): 7 years imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 5000
  • Section 374 of IPC (unlawful compulsory labour): 1 year imprisonment
  • Section 3(1)(vi) of SC ST Act (compelling an SC/ST member to do ‘begar’ or other similar forms of forced or bonded labour): 6 months imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 5000
  • Section 3(1)(xv) of SC ST Act (forcing an SC/ST member to leave his place of residence): 6 months imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 5000

As this offender begins his sentence, IJM hopes this conviction sends a powerful message to the community—and to the survivors who bravely raised their voices against him.

One survivor named Selvam, pictured above, who had been trapped in the rock quarry for four years, remembers, “Before I was rescued, I feared everyone—not only the owner but also the government officials…I was full of fear when I entered the court for cross-examination for the first time.”

But today, Selvam and the other survivors are feeling more confident and seeing improvements in their justice system. He adds,

“Today, I feel that officials are more sensitive toward our needs, especially when they know that we are survivors of bonded labour.”

He and his wife, Kannamma, lead a peaceful life and are overjoyed that their days as victims of bonded labour are behind them.

Together, they work as daily-wage labourers and also make the best use of the government’s guaranteed-work program for impoverished communities. Selvam is also a leader in the survivor-run Released Bonded Laborers’ Association in Tiruvannamalai, and regularly supports his community when in need.

Selvam concludes, “This conviction helped me realize that whoever commits a crime will face judgment and will be punished accordingly, regardless of how powerful they are.”

Read more about this conviction in The New Indian Express.

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