Filed Under:

Relentless RDO leads back-to-back rescues

25th and 26th May were significant days in Chengalpattu for several individuals. It was just another day for bonded labour victims from 12 brick kilns. Toiling under the hot sun, the labourers continued with their daily brick-making routine, longing for freedom. Meanwhile a proactive official Mr. Muthuvadivel assumed his duty as the Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) of Chengalpattu on 25th May.

On his first day, the Released Bonded Labourers’ Association (RBLA) and IJM referred bonded labour cases in two brick kilns. His response to the information was immediate. Aware of the serious nature of the crime, the RDO acted with a sense of urgency.

“They looked like they hadn’t eaten in months,” said Mr. Muthuvadivel looking at the victims of bonded labour in the two brick kilns. “It’s surprising to see that this crime exists even to this day,” he added.

The following day, IJM informed the RDO about a family seeking help in a neighbouring brick kiln. He responded immediately yet again. The RDO rescued another family – a couple with four children and the fifth baby was on the way.

On the first day, the RDO released 16 victims of bonded labour from two brick kilns followed by two more from one brick kiln the following day.

Missing children

On 26th May when the RDO asked the couple to go back to their huts and pack up their belongings, they found that their four children were missing. Click here to watch how the events unfolded.

Cycle of exploitation

In all the rescues led by the RDO there were high levels of exploitation. Children hidden to trigger fear and retain the family in the work site depicts the extent to which owners would go to retain cheap work force. They victims were made to believe that they owed the owners more money than they could afford. They were paid less than the State’s minimum wages for long hours of back-breaking work. They were not allowed to find jobs anywhere else and were forced to live in the work premises.

The cycle of exploitation was never ending in the brick kilns.

Proactive District Administration

Mr. Muthuvadivel wanted to end this cycle of exploitation once and for all. When he rescued the couple and their children on 26th May, he enquired his district officials about the ten neighbouring brick kilns – each a small establishment situated in a vast open land. He identified that they were all set up on encroached land. Immediately he ordered to shut down the ten brick kilns and seized six oil motors.

Later in the day, the RDO instructed his Village Administrative Officers (VAO) and Revenue Inspectors of his revenue division to conduct surprise checks at the mills and kilns to see if fair labour was practiced. He said that this action will bring waves of fear among the owners.

The RDO also instructed the VAO to follow up on the victims’ initial rehabilitation money with the Labour department.

The Tahsildar lodged complaints against all owners who were found to be bonded labour offenders. The Police arrested one of the accused and remanded him to judicial custody.