Renu Devi is proof that change in possible, even after generations of bondage in India.

Renu was 17 when she married and began her life of forced labor. Her husband was part of the Kamiya system—a form of caste-based, generational debt bondage. For four generations his family was enslaved and exploited for agricultural labor, with no hope of repaying the debt.

Renu was now part of that cycle.

Renu and her husband labored long hours in blazing heat, with no electricity or toilets, in exchange for a few handfuls of rice per day. She persevered in order to feed her family.

Justice Ventures International (JVI) and one of its local partners received information of the ongoing exploitation and began documenting cases, like Renu’s.

After months of investigation and petitioning, authorities intervened. The couple, along with 161 villagers, were released.

The freed laborers learned about their rights and received release certificates officially freeing them from slavery. Through JVI’s aftercare services, Renu found new strength. She used her compensation money to purchase livestock to help support her family.

Only two years after escaping, she was encouraged to run in the village election. In an unprecedented victory, she edged out the higher caste male candidate, who was supported by her former owner.

Today, Renu is transforming the village. As a government official, she issues contracts to build canals and drainage systems in her village. Renu ensures that freed bonded laborers have the opportunity to work on these projects.

Renu looks to the future, where her children can “study, have proper jobs, and stand on their own feet.”

“After my rescue from bonded labor, I can live life as I please. I can go wherever I want, work where I want. I can eat, sleep, work, and take care of my family. Life is much better now,” Renu says. “I’ve become a channel of fair employment for others.”

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