Family: A place of hope, security and freedom

For many of us, families play an important role in our lives. Even if our biological family does not, we have ‘friends like family’. The United Nations recognises family as the basic unit of society. Whether it refers to a person or place, families give us a sense of belonging, a feeling of home.

Today on the International Day of Families, we take great joy in sharing stories of victims of bonded labour and sex trafficking reuniting with their families and enjoying this gift of belonging.

What is common across both crimes is that victims are cheated into believing that there is a better life in store for them if they ‘work’ for the new employer. They don’t realise what they are getting into until it is too late to turn back. They forego their basic rights and freedoms – meaning their owner directs their every move – when to eat, when to sleep, when to work, who goes where and for how long. In other cases, they are drugged and trafficked.

Despite these traumatic ordeals they’ve faced, once rescued, survivors rebuild their homes and create their own happy endings.

Here are a couple of true stories of survivors from India who have beaten the odds and are celebrating life:

Mumbai:
Mumbai
At the end of one of the many quarrels 20-year-old Amiyah* had had with her mother, this one was too much for her to take. Tempers raged and Amiyah’s mother slapped her. Angered, Amiyah left the house. She stopped at a restaurant to eat and noticed two strange men walk towards her but she ignored them. Coming from a devout Muslim family, Amiyah paused to pray over her food before she ate. She opened her eyes, took a sip of water and fell unconscious. The men had drugged her water while she was praying. When she woke up, she was locked in a Mumbai brothel with three other women.

Amiyah’s family was distraught at her disappearance. Her father combed the city looking for his daughter, but to no avail.Amiyah’s mother feared the worst: had her momentary burst of anger sentenced her to a life without her precious daughter?

When Amiyah’s parents heard that Amiyah was in Mumbai, they rushed to be by Amiyah’s side. The police collaborated with IJM’s team of social workers and rescued Amiyah and four other women on 29 October 2010. They also went on to arrest four accused. Unlike many families, Amiyah’s parents stood as pillars for their daughter through this trying time.

“There are so many parents who don’t accept the child after something like this, but we were so certain our child did not intend to go in that direction- she was trapped. We are so happy she was rescued and we just wanted our daughter returned to us,” Amiyah’s mother says.

On 13 January 2015, two of the brothel keepers were sentenced to three years rigorous imprisonment and ordered to pay a fine. Additionally, two of the three brothels involved in the case were ordered to close.

“I’m very happy that the brothel was closed. I only wanted to escape, but when I heard it was closed down I was very happy,” says Amiyah.

Amiyah is now married with three children. She currently stays at home with the childrenand hopes one day to open her own beauty parlour.

*Pseudonym used.

Tamil Nadu:

Tamil Nadu
Pandidurai, his wife Gowri and their eight-year-old daughter Mamta live near the corner of the street in their village in Dharmapuri, Tamil Nadu. “Life is ‘jolly’ for me. I choose how my day looks like and I can spend time with my family whenever I want to. No more 12-hour days of back-breaking work for me,” says Pandidurai smiling.

Not too long ago, life was very different for Pandidurai and his family. Pandidurai had taken an advance of Rs 30,000 from a brick kiln owner that led to three years in bondage for him and his family. They worked tirelessly for less than minimum wage in terrible conditions, trying in vain to repay the loan they had taken.

In September 2016, the Sub Collector of Coimbatore district in Tamil Nadu and a team of government officials rescued 14 labourers including Pandidurai and his family. IJM’s partner organisation Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD) supported the rescue.

Pandidurai and Gowri have begun reconstructing their house in the village. Pandidurai enjoys painting and earns around Rs 450 a day. For a contract project outside the village, he gets around Rs 600. Gowri also brings in support from her monthly job as a saleswoman in a textile shop. With government rehabilitation benefits, they have even been able to set aside money for Mamta’s education, “Mamta’s life will be different from mine,” Pandidurai says.

Pandidurai recounts a memory from a recent village wedding that he will not forget. “I saw my wife dance with happiness, after a very long time. The past is behind us now.”