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Mallesh: Story Update


Mallesh: Story Update

Mallesh was 8 years old when he was brutally enslaved on a rose farm. Today, he’s choosing to use his freedom to free others. He said: “I want to have the power to help others. Imagine putting a full stop to child labour."


s a young boy, Mallesh was enslaved for five years, working 6am to 11pm without a day off. He experienced excruciating pain when chemical fertilisers burnt his skin and thorns buried themselves in his hands.

Thankfully, IJM Freedom Partners helped to send rescue. Because of Freedom Partners like you, the government and IJM staff were able to free Mallesh and four other boys back in 2013. In July this year, Mallesh passed his school exams and is pursuing a degree in social work. He’s now a member of the Rescued Bonded Labourers Association, a survivor-led group that helps bring rescue to people in slavery and advocates for change.

Read Mallesh's Story of Hope: Seeing Roses Rather Than Thorns

The beginning: Rescued from bonded labour in a rose farm in 2013

When IJM aftercare staff Venugopal met Mallesh, a few days after he had been rescued from bonded labour in 2013 (original story here), he saw a taciturn boy who kept his head down and stayed away from any group activity.

Venu tried everything—stories, cartoons, conversations—with limited results. One day, Venu introduced him to art. For a moment, there was hope and then Mallesh showed Venu his punctured, scarred hands.

“My hands hurt, sir,” said a tearful Mallesh. “I cannot draw.”

Venu was shocked and heartbroken, but he had a breakthrough. Thus, began a relationship that would change their lives in ways they never imagined.

Trapped Amongst the Thorns

Mallesh was the third child of a family in a small village in the Krishnagiri District of Tamil Nadu. His mother passed away before his first birthday and, within a couple of years, his father died too. Fortunately, his aunt took in the orphaned children and took good care of them. To this day, Mallesh calls her “Amma” (mother).

Growing up, Mallesh was a curious little boy who didn’t care much for academics. He loved the outdoors. His village bordered the forest, so he often wandered off to catch a glimpse of elephants, deer and peacocks. He was particularly fascinated with peacocks and wondered where their bright colors came from.

Everything changed when Mallesh was 8 years old. His elder brother—who worked in a rose farm—promised Mallesh’s labor to the owner of a rose farm near Bangalore, in the neighboring state of Karnataka, in exchange for a payment advance to help the family.

“I remember my brother telling me that he needed the money to conduct our sister’s wedding and pay off debts to local villagers,” recalls Mallesh. “I was a just child and did not understand or suspect anything.”

At the rose farm, Mallesh was made to stay in a small room so the owner could keep an eye on him. A typical day for the boy started at 6:00 am. He would take the owner’s cows out to graze, clean the cowshed, milk the cows, and take the milk to the dairy to be sold. After this, his work on the rose farm would begin.

Mallesh had to pluck the bloomed roses, pack, and store them in a cold storage room. He then had to cap the rose buds to protect them from the elements, before watering, pruning, spraying fertilizer on the plants and loosening the soil. His day would not be done until he took the cows back to the cowshed and fed them salt and fodder. It would be 11:00 pm by the time he went to sleep. Though he was given meals at the farm, he was not paid a single rupee in wages.

He was not paid a single rupee in wages.

This kind of brutal manual labor was never meant for children. Mallesh developed blisters and cuts from the thorns. Sometimes, the thorns buried themselves deep in his palms causing excruciating pain. When handling soil fertilizer, his cuts would burn from the chemicals. He would often cry from the pain. He was given gloves, but they were ineffective, protecting the rosebuds more than his hands. The owner insulted him in foul language when he complained and did not allow him to take a single day off.

Some of the older children working at the farm were given alcohol to dull the pain. Many of them were not used to drinking and would pass out, sometimes falling into the pond that was their source of drinking water.

“The boys would get badly hurt” says Mallesh. “This troubled me greatly.”

His ordeal continued for five long years. Mallesh was denied education, friendships, and recreation. He lost touch with his brother and missed him constantly. He was not allowed to go to the hospital when he fell sick, as the owner feared Mallesh would tell people his story. When he saw children with school bags and books, he yearned to study and learn about the world.

Free to Pursue an Education

Mallesh and four other boys were rescued by the Karnataka government and IJM staff in September 2013. That’s when he was taken to a shelter home and met Venu.

Venu heard Mallesh’s story, spent time with the boy, and secured admission for him at a local school. They developed a special bond. Mallesh took interest in studies, but found it difficult to cope, as his teachers looked down on him.

They would call me "dumb" and said I would never pass my final exams

“They would call me dumb and say that I would never clear my class 10 exams” he recalls. “I was made to sit in the last bench. It hurt me very much.”

Mallesh did not give up. He studied hard and passed his Secondary School exams with good marks. He chose the commerce stream for his Higher Secondary course and told himself that the much-feared final exams were his focus, saying, “I told myself that I had to pass so I can go further and study and become a respectful person.”

Mallesh passed his final exams in July 2020.

Summoning sheer grit and focus, Mallesh passed his final exams in July 2020. This has left a huge impression on him: “When I saw my results, my confidence soared. I know I can do anything. I remember all the teachers who called me useless. I can now stand before them confidently and tell them never to demean another student ever again.”

He now plans to pursue a degree in social work—inspired by the government officials who made a positive impact on his life.

“People study engineering because it is lucrative” smiles Mallesh, “but I want to have the power to help others. Imagine putting a full stop to child labour.”

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