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Four generations freed from woodcutting and charcoal facility

Father, daughter, grandson, and great granddaughter – four generations from one family – were finally freed from bondage when they were rescued by the RDO of Cheyyar, P. Kirubanand and IJM on 22 September 2017. They had been working at a woodcutting and charcoal unit with seven other family members in Veerampakkam Village, just 110 kms from Chennai for over five years.

“The District Administrator was proactive in rescuing the victims,” says Gladys Finney of IJM. “He was visibly moved by the pathetic living conditions of the victims.”

Acting decisively, authorities filed charges against the owner even before they had exited the work site. At the RDO’s office, the rescued labourers recounted how they had been lured by the owner’s promises of a fair job and accommodation. At the worksite however, they had been paid only Rs. 100-200 rupees per family per week. The “accommodation” provided was merely a shack on the facility’s property – a shack that flooded every time it rained.

Worse still, the labourers’ movements were closely monitored and restricted. They were never allowed to leave the facility or visit their villages, not even for a festival or funeral. Unable to meet the needs of their family with their meagre wages, a few women escaped the facility to beg on the streets. When one couple went to the village without permission, they were brought back and abused.

In fact, instances of physical and verbal abuse were routine and not even the youngest ones were spared. When two children were born at the facility, the owner refused to provide the mothers or children with medical care. At the time of the rescue, all the children were sick from exposure to charcoal dust.

Noting the poor health of the victims, the RDO speedily made arrangements for medical checkups at the local hospital. The team also arranged to have photographs of the victims taken on the very same day, allowing them to immediately apply for government benefits. All the men and women were also given Release Certificates and they are now in IJM’s aftercare programme. A First Information Report has also been registered against the accused.

“The RDOs proactive decisions on behalf of the victims demonstrate that the District Administration is committed and equipped to address the issue of bonded labour and trafficking,” says Alice Suganya, Director of Casework.