Two families rescued from a rice mill

The Sub Collector of Kancheepuram rescued nine bonded labourers including five children from a rice mill on 22 January 2019.

“We vowed to our gods that we will shave the head of our son, Karthick if his eyes would be cured of infection,” said Viji, Karthick’s father, one of the labourers. Viji’s brother, Vasu and his family also joined in with this vow.

But families needed money to go to the temple. This is when a rice mill owner advanced Rs. 8,000 – 12,000 to the families demanding labour in return.

Originally from Chengalpattu, the families were forced to relocate to the rice mill in Kancheepuram. For the next three years, Viji and Vasu’s families were bonded labourers, working 18 hours a day and receiving Rs. 200-300 per week. Detained at the rice mill, they were denied freedom of movement.

In addition to being deprived of their basic human rights, the families also suffered verbal and physical abuse. Their staple food was gruel made from broken rice, but when they ran out of it, Viji approached the owner to ask for wages to buy rice. In response, the owner beat him using a broom.

Viji and Vasu’s families waited for the day they could return to their homes in Chengalpattu and be free. The day finally arrived on 22nd January 2019. “Now only I’m at peace... I am relieved that I don’t have to hear the owner's haunting voice asking me to get up and start the boil process. I am so happy that I am now out,” said Malar. “I will never again take an advance and go work anywhere else. I will get all the ID cards that I will need and educate my children.”

The Sub Collector issued four Release Certificates and also gifted them sarees and veshtis. He assured them that the authorities will issue their basic identity documents and other entitlements to help sustain their lives in freedom. He also added that he would ensure that the children get proper education.

An FIR was filed against owner of the rice mill under Sections 9, 16, 17, 18 of Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, Section 374 of the Indian Penal Code and Section 3 (1)(h) of SC/ST Act. The owner was remanded the following day.

Snapshots from rescue day

Figure 1: Tahsildar conducts initial enquiry at the rice mill.

Figure 2: Families pack their belongings to return to their native place

Figure 3: The young girl creating this colourful picture expressed her desire to return to school so that she can work in a company and buy new clothes for her appa.

Figure 4: Young Arjun said that he missed his dog, Karrupie. He eagerly waited to go back home to him.