Bonded labourers rescued from five brick kilns in one day

Unable to bear the emotional and physical pain, Kumar* had consumed poison and was found unconscious on the road outside the brick kiln. Kumar’s owner had beaten him up because he had left the worksite to visit his sick relative in Villupuram, his native place. The brick kiln owner had denied Kumar and the other labourers their freedom of movement and other basic rights. About ten families were bonded labourers in his brick kiln in Erode.

An NGO, Rights Education and Development Centre (READ) heard about the incident and immediately alerted the District Collector of Erode, who in turn reached out to Mr. Pugalendi, Deputy Collector for Welfare (RDO-in-charge) to lead the rescue operation. The Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) was unavailable that day.

Mr. Pugalendi assembled a group of officials and inspected the brick kiln on 14th September. Upon enquiry, he identified that the owners of the brick kiln where Kumar was working in, and in four other neighbouring brick kilns were all committing bonded labour crimes.

“The labourers from the five brick kilns approached the RDO-in-charge and requested him to rescue them,” said Mr. M. Raja, Advocate, Madras High Court. “While this is a commendable move by the RDO to inspect five brick kilns in one day, this rescue operation will be complete only when Kumar is also given his Release Certificate and is declared free,” he added.

However, this rescue is an exemplary move by the District Administration. This is the first time in IJM’s 15 years in Tamil Nadu, that we are witnessing five rescues in one day. A total of 39 people were freed from bondage.

“We were able to witness the government functioning effectively in this case,” said Mr. Karuppusamy, Director of READ. “There are more cases like these in Erode that needs intervention by these proactive officials.”

The RDO-in-charge gave 13 Release Certificates to the victims of bonded labour and ensured that the labourers returned to their homes safely in Villupuram. Mr. Pugalendi also informed the RDO of Villupuram about the case so that he can kick-start their rehabilitation processes.

“Rehabilitation is vital in this case because the labourers said that they took advances from the owner to build houses. Only if the government provides proper rehabilitation, re-bondage can be prevented,” said Mr. Clement David, Community Engagement Specialist, IJM.

*Name changed to protect identity.