The triumph of resilience

Papamma remembers the day she found out the 6-month old baby in her womb stopped moving. She was out at the brick kiln, making bricks in the hot sun since dawn. They lost the baby and Papamma ended up in the hospital for a week. “I have never experienced another week like that,” she says. “The owner did not allow my husband to come to the hospital at all, so I was all alone,” Papamma explains. A week later, the owner of the kiln forced her to get back to work.

For 5 years, Papamma and Chiranjeevi knew 12-14 hour work days. They were not allowed to leave the kiln or visit their families during festivals. Papamma remembers praying that all the 1200 bricks that she, her brother and sister-in-law made every day would come out “perfect” so the owner would pay them at the end of the week. Chiranjeevi remembers the constant verbal abuse and threats that were thrown at them. The day his mother Shivamma was beaten up by the owner is still fresh in his mind.

It was Papamma’s brother’s wedding in 2011 that brought them to the kiln. Chiranjeevi’s grandfather and his parents were already working at the kiln when he joined them. Their marriage was deliberated by the brick kiln owner, who convinced both families that it was a good move. After much coercion by the families and the owner, the two of them agreed. After they were married, working conditions got worse for all the kiln workers as the owner resorted to frequent physical abuse.

Papamma brings the story back to the few weeks after her return from the hospital. “I was very depressed and unable to work. All I could think of was the baby I lost…and those terrible days when I was left to grieve alone.” Chiranjeeevi took the responsibility of cooking and cleaning the house and even taking care of her. “That was when we began to talk about escaping this life,” Papamma recalls. It was only about a year later, on the morning of August 13th 2014 that Papamma and Chrianjeevi saw a ray of light.

It was a landmark case in the fight against bonded labour and a significant development in the history of the criminal justice system in the State of Karnataka, when Papamma and Chiranjeevi’s story took a new turn on 10th March 2017, 3 years after they were rescued. The brick kiln owner was sentenced to ten years of rigorous imprisonment and a penalty of ₹16,000 was imposed on him under Section 370 (Trafficking of Persons) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and several sections under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976. The verdict is the very first one of its kind in Karnataka where a perpetrator has been convicted under IPC 370 for a bonded labour trafficking crime.