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State Human Rights Commission conducts workshop on bonded labour system

The Tamil Nadu State Human Rights Commission (TNSHRC) collaborated with International Justice Mission to conduct a workshop on The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 on 10th September 2018. Over 50 officials including the Commissioner of Labour, TNSHRC members, Revenue Divisional Officers and Inspectors of Police attended the workshop.

Though uncommon for TNSHRC to collaborate with NGOs, Tmt. Justice T. Meenakumari, Hon’ble Chairperson, TNSHRC launched the partnership commending IJM for conducting the workshop. She added that NGOs need to work with the State Government and the society to ensure that vulnerable people receive their entitlements.

Addressing the need to act upon bonded labour cases swiftly, Justice Meenakumari said that Vigilance Committees and District Legal Services Authority play a key role. While Vigilance Committees can identify and rescue bonded labourers through regular inspections, legal services authorities can support victims during trial. This is highly important because victims most often are afraid to speak due to the fear instilled in them by their owners.

Other speakers included Tmt. S. Amirtha Jothi, IAS, Deputy Secretary to Government, Labour and Employment, Tamil Nadu; Thiru. D. Jayachandran, Hon’ble Member, TNSHRC; Dr. A. C. Mohandoss, IAS (Retd.), Hon’ble Member, TNSHRC, Tmt. Shobana IAS, Secretary, TNSHRC; Dr. C. K. Gandhirajan, IPS, Director General of Police, TNSHRC; Ms. Abirami, Special District Revenue Officer and Tmt. Merlin Freeda, Director Of Operations, IJM Chennai. Deep passion for the cause of vulnerable people in the society was evident in their speeches. They took the participants through various facts about bonded labour and emphasised on the need to act on the issue urgently. The following are points that the speakers covered:

  • The pitiful situation of bonded labourers
  • Importance of rehabilitation and how it will prevent re-bondage
  • Importance of conviction and how it will deter potential offenders
  • Importance of regular inspections and rescues and how it that will reduce prevalence of the crime
  • Importance of awareness at both the grassroots level and in the city

The latter half of the workshop trained the officials on the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code and also the importance of Vigilance Committees.

Shanmugam and Murugesan, rescued bonded labourers gave motivational speeches based on their lives. They were once bonded labourers but today, they are Vigilance Committee members, leaders in their communities and leaders in the Released Bonded Labourers’ Association. Just as Ms. Abirami had shared, a victim of bonded labour, with proper rehabilitation and support system, can become leaders of tomorrow and impact many lives.

Concluding the workshop, Dr. Nandagoapal, IAS, Commissioner of Labour delivered a special address. He said that exploitative labour affects the country’s economy directly. Dr. Nandagopal talked about various provisions designed by the State to tackle bonded labour – State Action Plan, appointment of State Level Officer to monitor bonded labour crimes, regular training programs in the districts to equip officials, provision of immediate rehabilitation support to newly released bonded labourers and so on. He added that a software is being developed to record bonded labour offences.

The workshop was a huge success. State officials, police officials, district officials and also survivors of bonded labour shared their knowledge and expertise to work together more effectively and eliminate bonded labour from our State entirely. The speeches were packed with information, facts about the crime and also encouraging stories of victims who have become victors. It was evident that all officials understood the plight of victims of bonded labour and that they were determined to help the vulnerable in Tamil Nadu.