shield arrow-simple-alt-top arrow-simple-alt-left arrow-simple-alt-right arrow-simple-alt-bottom facebook instagram linkedin medium pinterest rss search-alt shaper twitter video-play arrow-long-right arrow-long-left arrow-long-top arrow-long-bottom arrow-simple-right arrow-simple-left arrow-simple-bottom readio arrow-simple-top speaker-down plus minus cloud hb pin camera globe cart rotate Group-35 star edit arrow-top arrow-right arrow-left arrow-bottom check search Close square speaker-up speaker-mute return play pause love new-tab equalizer
Back to Stories

Urgent Rescue of 360 People Sparks Mass Exodus from Brick Kilns

Share

Urgent Rescue of 360 People Sparks Mass Exodus from Brick Kilns

This week, IJM helped Indian law enforcement rescue 360 people from bonded labour at a notoriously brutal brick kiln—which then led to the release of nearly 7,000 other migrant workers who had been trapped during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Give Now
I

India’s lockdown has kept millions safe from COVID-19but it’s also kept many migrant labourers stranded at worksites where they are abused, enslaved and forced to work.

This was the case for 360 children, women and men from northern India who had become trapped at a brick kiln in Tiruvallur District, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. The kiln’s owner had lured them with cash advances as bait, but then cheated them and forced them to make thousands of bricks a day.

The families had been working for about 6 months, even as COVID-19 began spreading and most businesses were ordered closed.

By May 18, food and water had become scarce at the kiln, and the labourers tried asking permission to return home.

Instead, the owner and his accomplices brutally assaulted them with clubs and sticks. One man later told local media, “When we refused to work, the owner and [supervisor] brought a group of men and thrashed us mercilessly. They even beat up women who came for our rescue.”

A few labourers managed to send desperate messages and graphic photographs of the assaults to relatives in Odisha state—one of whom knew IJM and reached out to us for help.

“We were scared for our life,” said one young woman from the kiln.

“In fact, we had lost hope to return home alive until the officials came to our rescue on Tuesday.”

Rescue & a Repeat Offender

IJM immediately began working with district authorities and our casework partner Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD) on what is one of our largest rescue operations ever.

As we investigated further, we discovered this was actually the third time this same owner had trafficked and enslaved people at his kiln.

IJM had helped authorities rescue 333 people there in 2015 and 328 more in 2016.

The owner was charged in each of these cases, but always posted bail and resumed illegally. Both of those trials are still pending.

This time, the owner and his henchmen had already absconded when the rescue team arrived early on May 19. Police are continuing to search for him, and IJM and FSD legal teams will work to oppose his requests for bail.

At the kiln, the Revenue District Officer (who oversees labour issues) swiftly interviewed the labourers and appointed two police officers to protect them throughout the day and night. She also moved any badly injured victims to a local hospital and provided food relief for the desperate labourers.

At first it seemed the families would have to stay at the brick kiln until national travel bans were lifted, but officials in Tamil Nadu and Odisha coordinated swiftly and made a surprising decision to transport these families immediately.

All 360 people were assisted onto trains on May 20 to begin returning home.

Mass Exodus of Migrants

Compelling media coverage and local advocacy around this rescue inspired government officials to go even further in protecting vulnerable people locked down in similar conditions.

On May 19 and 20, officials met with the owners of 30 nearby brick kilns and demanded all migrant labourers be allowed to return home—releasing around 6,750 people in just 48 hours. Authorities arranged 150 buses to bring the labourers to the train station, and then granted them special permission and police escorts to travel home to Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh.

With this unprecedented exodus of labourers, FSD Executive Director Dr. Krishnan said joyfully,

Justice reached the voiceless people! Owing to the collective efforts of the government, civil society organizations and media, within 48 hours nearly 7,000 labourers were transported to their homes. This is massive! The government is sensitive to the rights of vulnerable people and is listening to them.”

The magnitude of this government action has resounded throughout Tiruvallur District, as abusive business owners see how authorities are ready to protect people in poverty. Even amid the pandemic, they are willing to rescue people from bonded labour and—as investigations continue—pursue justice against those who exploited them.

See more about IJM is advocating for the rights of migrant labourers and those #UnsafeinLockdown in the garment industry

Justice in Fashion IJM UK is proud to be part of this new collaborative initiative tackling injustice in the fashion industry and advocating for a more just fashion industry post-Covid 19.

Read more stories of how IJM teams are supporting migrant workers and labourers #UnsafeInLockdown.

Become a Freedom Partner Today

You might also be interested in…

see more
Social Media Helps IJM Partner NGO Rescue of 56 from a Brick Kiln

IJM and our casework partner Jai Bhim Vikas Shikshan Sansthan (JBVSS) supported a complicated rescue operation in the state of Haryana. Fifty-six people—including many young children and babies—were brought out of bondage at a brick kiln, aided by the use of social media during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Ghana Rescue During Lockdown - 3 Children Free from Child Slavery

During May's lockdown, IJM and partners conducted an operation to rescue three children, two boys and one girl, who had been trafficked into the fishing industry, which is notorious for the trafficking of children to work on Ghana's Lake Volta. IJM continues its preventative, protective and restorative work to ensure children are safe and traffickers are held to account.

Trapped Garment Workers Reach out to Newspaper and 150 are Finally Rescued

Ever since India’s COVID-19 lockdown began, the world has been shaken by the stories of millions of migrant labourers stranded far from their homes and growing desperate without money, food or shelter. In many cases, these workers have been trapped at factories and worksites—as brutal business owners take advantage of the pandemic to extract more and more forced labour.

Sixty-Four Children Among Hundreds Rescued at Brick Kiln During Lockdown

Earlier this week, IJM assisted local authorities in rescuing 281 people from bonded labour at a massive brick kiln. This included 64 children of all ages who were forced to mold heavy bricks alongside their parents.

You Can Send Rescue Today.

When you give a gift today, you’ll be fighting slavery, violence, and injustice across the globe. Together, we can end slavery in our lifetime.

You can make the most impact as a Freedom Partner today.

Your generous monthly support will send rescue to vulnerable children and families at a moment’s notice, stand with them as they rebuild their lives in freedom and see their abusers in court.

Login

Donor Portal

Review your giving, tax statements and contact info via the IJM Donor Portal.

please sign in
Email Sign Up
Get updates from IJM on stories from the field, events in your area and opportunities to get involved.
sign up