Chengalpattu District Judge convicts rice mill owner of bonded labour

On 13th March 2018, the Chengalpattu District Judge convicted the owner of a Rice Mill under Sections, 16, 17, 18 of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976. The owner was directed to pay a fine of Rs.6,000 or face imprisonment up to three months.

The rice mill owner had employed 24 bonded labourers in his rice mill. The labourers were released by the then Revenue Divisional Officer of Kancheepuram, Mr. Muralidharan, on 25th May 2007, 11 years ago. A total of 17 release certificates were issued.

Gopi, one of the survivors, had been working in the facility for over four years. He had taken Rs.3000 as advance from the owner and he, along with his family, moved into the work site to work. Till the day Gopi was released from bondage, he was working in the facility along with his wife Nirmala (30 years), daughter, Suganya (10 years), son, Karthik (8 years) and son, Chinnathambi (6 years). His last two daughters Lakshmi (2 years) and Poonkodi (2 months) also stayed in the work site but were too young to work.

None of the children were allowed to attend the government school that was close to the work site. The children were forced to sweep the kalam, help the older labourers in spreading the paddy and do other odd jobs for the owner. The owner usually paid Rs.1 or Rs.2 to the children for the job he extracted from them. The owner verbally and physically abused the children if he saw that they were not working.

For all the work extracted from Gopi and his family, the owner paid Rs.60 to Gopi and Rs.30 to Nirmala once every three days as wages. The owner paid Gopi and his family five kilograms of rice every week as wage. Gopi’s wife Nirmala was forced to work even during her pregnancy. Gopi and his family were forced to stay in the work site and always were under the watchful eyes of the supervisor.

Unable to bear the agony and pain his family was facing, Gopi and his family once ran away from the facility, leaving their belongings behind. The owner immediately tracked Gopi and his family, who were waiting in a bus station near the facility, and brought them back to the facility.

Mr. Muralidharan, the RDO who initiated this rescue is currently the Director of Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare Department, Chennai. He was instrumental in the rescue and conviction as he was one of the key witnesses and testified in court.