|This August, just days before India celebrated its Independence Day (August 15th), Manoj* and his family began their own celebration of freedom, after living the last 18 years as bonded laborers on a farm in northern India.|
In the year 2000, the family faced a financial crisis. Manoj and his wife, Mitali*, sold themselves as agricultural workers to a land owner in exchange for an advance of about $400. The land owner, Rohit, took advantage of Manoj and his family’s desperation, using this illegal loan to trap them in forced labor slavery that lasted for the next 18 years. Rohit may have held them captive for the rest of their lives had JVI and its partners not intervened.
In violation of India’s Bonded Labour (Abolition) Act and other criminal and labor laws, Rohit forcedManoj and Mitali to work 16 hours per day, or more, without any cash payment, receiving only a few handfuls of rice in return for their work. “There were times when he would not allow us to eat our food if there was work still to be done” said Mitali. It was not long before their captor asked Manoj to bring his two sons, who were children at the time, to work alongside with him on the farm. As time went by, Manoj’s two sons were married and brought their wives to live with them. Rohit demanded that they also work on the farm. When the family refused, Rohit forced his way into their home, threatened them, and drove them out into the fields.
The family faced extreme forms of verbal and physical abuse by Rohit. He would beat Manoj and his family with an iron pipe. He threatened to make Manoj and Mitali’s small grandchildren perform manual labor on the farm. The family was not allowed to leave their home without Rohit’s permission and were never allowed to all leave together, to ensure they would not attempt an escape.
With no end to his plight, Manoj pleaded with Rohit and asked if he would be willing to set the agreement aside and release the family. Despite their years of labor, Rohit told Manoj that the balance of initial loan had not been reduced, and in fact, with accrued interest, he now owed almost $1,500. Out of sheer desperation, Manoj sold the little land his family owned and handed over the proceeds to Rohit, who kept the money, but refused to release the family.
JVI and one of its partner organizations, Duncan Hospital, uncovered Manoj’s case and submitted a complaint to the local authorities. On August 10th, JVI lawyers coordinated with Duncan Hospital and government officials to rescue the family. Manoj, Mitali, and their two adult sons were provided with release certificates which will enable them to access government benefits and rehabilitation support. The family received medical attention, recorded official witness statements, and set off toward their hometown, ready to begin a new chapter together.
For the next 24 months, JVI and its partner organizations will work with the family to ensure their sustained freedom and restoration. In addition, our lawyers are working with police and prosecutors to hold Rohit accountable for his crimes.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the parties involved.
Join us in celebrating India’s Independence Day, today, August 15th, by making a donation to our Summer of Freedom Campaign. As of today, we have raised $24,601 towards our matching challenge. We are over halfway there!