Vigilance Committee leads bonded labour rescue

Seven bonded labourers were rescued from a woodcutting unit on 27th August 2018 by the Vigilance Committee of Maduranthagam. This is the second time this year that a Vigilance Committee is leading a rescue as per The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976.

Section 13 of The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act makes it mandatory for every District and Sub-Division to set up Vigilance Committees (VCs) to monitor bonded labour crimes in their jurisdiction.

The Committee is required to meet once a quarter to discuss action plans with the District Magistrate and to carry them forward. The functions of the Committee include: inspecting businesses for bonded labour crimes, rehabilitating survivors, defending survivors during trial and creating awareness on the crime.

The Maduranthagam VC led this bonded labour rescue effectively. “The Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) of Maduranthagam, Ms. Malathy was highly proactive and supportive”, said VC member, Prakash Rao. “She enquired the labourers, released them, instructed the Village Administrative Officer (VAO) to file a complaint against the owner and urged the police to file an FIR too.”

Later, the owner was secured by the Police and was remanded.

Seven labourers. Seven years in bondage. Seven Release Certificates.

The victims had taken advances of Rs. 2000 from their owner and had been working there for seven years in order to clear their debt. Each individual received Rs. 20 per day from the owner as wages. This amount is well below the State’s prescribed minimum wage. In addition to this, the owner had authority over every move of the labourers – she forced them to work night and day and live only in the worksite. The labourers were confined there and they were longing for freedom.

Amulu, survivor of bonded labour and member of VC, Maduranthagam, advised the rescued bonded labourers to never accept advance money from anyone ever again. She assured them of support and emphasised on the importance of educating their children.
“I feel great joy seeing them released,” Amulu said. “We were in their place a few years ago and so we understand how they feel.”

The RDO issued seven Release Certificates to the victims, declaring them free of any outstanding debt. She also instructed the VAO to open bank accounts for them in order to transfer their rehabilitation money. This may take a few days but the process has begun.