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A promise to end bonded labour: History in the making!

The Deputy Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu stated, “We will free Tamil Nadu of bonded labour.” This landmark commitment was made at an event that celebrated the freedom of former bonded labourers from all across Tamil Nadu. Over 1000 released bonded labourers were present for this event yesterday, the 19th of September 2018 at Madras Christian College Higher Secondary School, Chennai.

This assurance given by the Deputy Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu marks a turning point in history. It indicates the beginning of the end of bonded labour in Tamil Nadu.

Merlin Freeda, Director of IJM Chennai, in her address commended the Tamil Nadu government for their proactive work towards ending bonded labour in the State. She mentioned that the policies – State Action Plan and Uniform Procedure – are revolutionary steps taken by the government to address bonded labour in Tamil Nadu.

Dr. Krishnan from National Adivasi Solidarity Council (NASC) stated that Tamil Nadu is the forerunner in leading bonded labour rescues across the country. He also added that there is a need to conduct surveys to procure data on bonded labour, increase the functioning of Vigilance Committees and also to allocate sufficient budget to rehabilitate survivors.

In response, the Deputy Chief Minister said that surveys will be rolled out and that budget should not be a hurdle for victims to access rehabilitation. He stated that there is adequate budget for the same.

A bonded labour survivor, Thaiamma addressed the gathering. “I was pregnant when I was a bonded labourer but I did not feel my baby kick,” said Thaiamma. Thaiamma’s owner did not allow her to go to the hospital for check-ups. He forced her to work for the advance she and her husband had taken. It was only when Thaiamma was freed that the doctors said that she was anaemic. After appropriate treatment, she felt her baby kick for the first time in eight months.

“It was as if my baby knew that we were free,” said Thaiamma.

A month after rescue, in September 2017, Thaiamma delivered a healthy baby boy.

The Deputy Chief Minister honoured bonded labour survivors who have grown from being victims to victors – survivors who have led other bonded labourers to freedom, helped others in their community to access government benefits and have worked with the government and NGOs to help build their communities.