ANDHRA PRADESH, INDIA – Latha had only been a survivor leader for a few months but – when she got her first opportunity to share about her life – she left her audience stunned.
Years ago, Latha and her family were enslaved in an abusive rice mill in southern India. While her abusers were eventually acquitted in court, Latha has moved with strength through IJM’s aftercare program and now lives in freedom in Andhra Pradesh. In late 2022, she joined her state’s 800-person chapter of the Released Bonded Labourers Association (RBLA), a survivor peer group combating bonded labour and supporting each others recovery.
In January, Latha was invited to share about her journey with Labour Department officials from 26 districts of Andhra Pradesh, India where IJM recently began a new anti-bonded labor program. These government leaders were generally aware of the issue of bonded labor but are less experienced in rescuing and rehabilitating survivors like Latha.
Latha stunned the government leaders with the clarity and detail of her personal story (read more below) and with her hearty message of thanks for the work they do.
“It was your signature and your decision to act that saved me,” Latha said. “Just as you have led me to freedom, I pray that you are able to rescue others who are still in bondage. When you rescue them, I hope they too, like me, will be able to wear bangles instead of chains. I wish that they too can comb their hair and look beautiful like me. Rather than verbal abuse, I wish their ears get to wear earrings like me. It is my hope that they all learn what freedom is, just like me.”
Overwhelmed by her emotional journey, one of the officials walked up to her and offered her some cash. With all humility, Latha gently refused. Instead, she expressed her gratefulness to the government stating that they had already given her a priceless gift.
“Money cannot give me what you have already given me,” she shared. “The government has gifted me with lifelong freedom. I'm grateful to all who are a part of my freedom journey.”
Just as the government attendees were in awe of Latha’s vision, so too were IJM staff, blown away by her strength and courage. We look forward to seeing Latha and other survivor leaders grow in their leadership of the anti-trafficking movement in Andhra Pradesh – ensuring her beautiful words come true again and again.