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In freedom, a guardian and a leader for others

Invited to speak to a group of former bonded labourers, rescued by government officials and IJM, Madhurian walks in with a big smile. His firm handshake and brief introduction—“My name is Madhurian and I ‘graduated’ in 2012”—indicate his confidence.

Looking round the room, he says, “I can well understand what you feel at this moment, for I have walked that road. A few years ago, I could not have imagined that my life would change so dramatically. I was working in a brick kiln in a place called Rayakottai near Hosur, making more than 1,000 bricks a day. The work was grueling. My wife and I, along with four other families, worked from dawn to dusk, without even knowing how much we were earning! It was not that we did not know how much was due to us, but after a few months, we realised it was futile to argue with the owner. We had no choice but to endure his abuses. Those were the worst days of my life.”

His eyes fill up and he turns his face away. A moment later, he continues in a different vein, “But we are now free. After we were rescued in 2010, our life changed completely. Today, I am the leader of my community and I drive a tractor for a living. I learnt that I did not have to suffer, that the laws of my country had actually given me the right to stay out of situations like this. I learnt that the government had made a number of provisions to help me protect my family, and stay away from this kind of exploitation.”

Learning about his rights proved to be an eye-opener. As a first step, he ensured that all the children in his community were admitted to the local school. He also worked with the local government for better roads, water connections, solar lights and ration cards.

“My people are safe and happy today because of the knowledge I received on my rights. I really believe that is the first step. Had I known what was due to me, I would never have been a bonded labourer. And now that I know my rights, no one can take it away from me.”