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IJM partner brings 111 people to safety in 10 days

RAJASTHAN, INDIA – Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, IJM’s casework partner in the Indian state of Rajasthan has been hard at work rescuing children, women and men from bonded labour alongside local authorities.

Over the course of 10 days in May, Jai Bhim Vikas Shikshan Sansthan (JBVSS) worked with the government on four rescue operations at abusive brick kilns—bringing 111 people to freedom.

All of these survivors had been trafficked from the nearby state of Uttar Pradesh under the promise of good work and fair pay, but instead met appalling conditions, relentless labour, and violence every day.

Oddly, the plight of these families was brought to light by the effects of COVID-19 on migrant labourers. All migrant labourers initially had to stay at their worksites during India’s national lockdown, but then later they were given permission to travel home. This then illuminated the businesses in Rajasthan where people were actually in bondage and could not leave.

Because JBVSS has been working with these vulnerable communities since 1993 (and as an IJM partner since 2015), they have had the grassroots knowledge and relationships to see these patterns and bring cases to local authorities for action—leading to the string of urgent cases from May 16–26.

IJM’s Abishek Joseph describes, “Perpetrators think they are powerful, and they try to suppress the voice of bonded labourers by showing their power. They don’t realize there are many powerful voices (government, partners and IJM) behind these voiceless people who are willing to bring freedom for them.”

During one operation on May 21, the brick kiln owners initially agreed to let the labourers leave peacefully. Instead, as soon as authorities left, they violently beat up the families and chased them away. JBVSS and district officials had to return a second time to ensure the labourers were safe and the owners would be held accountable.

In all four cases, JBVSS has also been successful in securing back-wages for the rescued labourers to compensate them for their losses and help them re-start life in freedom (totaling more than 850,000 rupees, or the equivalent £9,015). JBVSS has helped each family return safely to their home village and has connected them to local NGOs who can provide ongoing care and rehabilitation.

IJM looks forward to supporting JBVSS and our other casework partners more and more as we take on bonded labour cases surfacing during COVID-19. As one IJM staff member said joyfully,

“It has been inspiring to see them move relentlessly, fearlessly and without a pause.”

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