Three generations bonded for over 30 years, finally free

At a time when Kuppan* was struggling to find jobs and make ends meet, he was grateful when a field owner gave him Rs. 1,000 and employed him for agricultural work. Kuppan was about 15 years old at the time and was unaware of what the thousand rupees would cost him – three generations of bondage.

Kuppan married Malliga* and they had four children while they were bonded here. Of the four children, two married and they had children as well. The whole family slogged under the sun and in the rain only to earn Rs. 150 per week (women were paid Rs. 80). During family occasions and festivals, when the family asked to go back to their native village to visit their relatives, the owner held back a few people to ensure that they returned to work in his field. If their return was delayed, he took his car, tracked them down, brought them back and added the fuel expenses to their advance amount. There was no escape from the fence-less field.

“Some people once (approximately five years ago) came and said that they would take us out of here. But they never came back and the owner heard about the incident. He said, ‘Did I not tell you that I have people everywhere and that you should not try to escape?’ Saying this, he beat all of us. Since that day we decided to accept our fate and die here,” said Kuppan.

But fate had other plans for them. When Kuppan’s family came across the Released Bonded Labourers’ Association (RBLA), they took a chance and asked for help one last time. One of the field workers recalls, “The labourers said, ‘if you are not going to take us out, please leave it. We’ll die here. But please don’t get us in trouble with the owner’.”

Based on the information provided by RBLA leaders, Mr. Haridass, the Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) of Cheyyar Sub Division, Thiruvanamalai District rescued 17 victims including six children from the agricultural field on 7th May. Totally he freed four families and gave Release Certificates to 10 survivors and a relief amount of Rs. 750 that day.

The RDO gave Rs. 750 to the survivors instead of Rs. 20,000 because of several factors: Survivors needed bank accounts for the money to be transferred. But they did not have bank accounts and also did not have sufficient IDs to open bank accounts. They did not have IDs because they did not have permanent addresses since they had been displaced from their native place for over 30 years.

However, understanding the need for immediate rehabilitation, government officials are working on getting land pattas for survivors.

Until they have their own homes, survivors have moved in with their relatives. The following morning, Malliga told one of the field workers, “This is the most peaceful sleep I’ve ever had. I don’t have to tie my hands and answer anyone anymore. I am free. I never thought this day would come.”

*Names changed to protect identity.