With his palms to the floor and knees on the ground, 70-year old Kasi lay down on the ground, at the feet of Kanchipuram revenue officials when they reached the woodcutting unit to rescue several bonded labourers.
A team of revenue officials had arrived at a woodcutting unit owner in Tamil Nadu’s Kancheepuram district on Wednesday (July 10) morning to free him and 27 other bonded labourers, who were trapped in a vicious debt cycle for over five years.
“After the rescue in the morning, they [revenue officials] dropped us at home late night. They gave us 10 kg rice, a dhoti and a saree before sending us back home. But last night itself, people close to the owner came and threatened us. We are afraid they will harm us,” The Indian Express quoted Kasi, a resident of Periyakarumbur village near Kancheepuram, as saying.
Kasi came under the spotlight after a newspaper carried a photograph in which he is seen falling at the feet of revenue officials.
"I had been working for Natarajan for over five years for Rs 20,000 I borrowed from him," said Kasi.
Revenue officials of Vellore and Kancheepuram districts rescued a total of 42 people from two separate woodcutting units.
According to The Indian Express, the rescue operation was conducted in coherence with the International Justice Mission and was based on a tip-off from Released Bonded Labourers Association.
The 14 people released in Ranipet in Vellore received their release certificates on Wednesday. However, Kasi and the other labourers, all of them belonging to the ST Irula community, have not been given release certificates yet.
These certificates cancel the “debt” to the employer and make those rescued beneficiaries to central and state schemes and give them an assistance of Rs 20,000 on the day of rescue.
A neighbour of Kasi said the owner, after the rescue of the labours, himself came to threaten them.
Kasi's neighbour Ayyappan said he had borrowed Rs 10,000 from Natarajan few years ago for treatment.
“I had to keep working for them. It was like a permanent debt. Even after officials dropped us home late last night, owners came and threatened us. They said they would kill everyone if we don’t return,” Ayyappan, who borrowed Rs 10,000 from Natarajan, said.
Among those rescued on Wednesday were 10 children, who were forced to work along with their parents to repay their debt.
Tahsildar Ramani said the sub-collector was the inquiry officer and the release certificates would be issued only after the inquiry is completed.