In January 2020, the CNN Freedom Project visited Sidalghat, a silk hub about 65 kilometers northeast of Bangalore, Karnataka, and met Hadia and Naseeb. This mother and daughter were forced to work 11 hours a day by their “master”, for which they earned just 200 rupees (about $ 2.75) to repay a $ 100,000 (about $ 1,370) loan that was in size. Were doubled.
Naseeb had been working in a silk factory for three years, his mother nine years, to boil silkworms and remove the threads out of which silk is made. The steam was foul and their hands were bleeding, she said.
“(Guru) came and he said to my mother, if you don’t give money then we will be a rich man and you have to sleep with that man.”
“I am afraid of the owner, because he has given us (a) house to live in,” she said. “Where should we go? We can’t go anywhere. We don’t know what he’ll do to us after this video.”
Hadiya and Naseeb hid their faces on camera and received their certificates only after being identified by CNN.
In India, bonded laborers can contact the authorities requesting a certificate of release. If an investigation finds their case to be genuine, they are issued a certificate, which proves that their loan has been canceled and provides them with government assistance. This process can be lengthy – sometimes takes years – and bonded laborers may need to come to the authorities to address social pressures and intimidation.
“It is very difficult to convince bonded laborers (to go to the authorities), because they feel that they are admiring the masters or landlords who have helped them in their time of need,” said Kiran Kamal Prasad Jeevika, Bonded is the institution working for the abolition of wages.
Authority figures often come from similar communities such as bonded labor keepers, or the same dominant caste as landlords, Prasad explained.
“Very often, the authorities are not implementing the (Bonded Labor System) Act,” he said. “It takes a tremendous effort from us to do what the authorities must do.”
Life after forced labor
Jeevika has people like Shiv Kumar, a senior local government official in Sidlaghatta.
“I grew up as the son of a bonded laborer,” he told CNN. “The (bonded laborers) in the village think that this is their (fate). If they come forward with any complaint, we will file a criminal case against the landlord.”
For Prasad, freedom is only the first step for the victims. “We want to build an agency of bonded laborers (help) ensure justice for themselves,” he said.
Programs are emerging in villages, where communities of former slaves are coming together to channel their savings into collective funds. They can attract him based on the need of that fund, without turning to his former masters – or any other guru – for a loan.
Jeevika has helped secure the freedom of about 7,000 bond laborers in India over the last six years, and last year it added Hadiya and Naseeb to that total. The mother and daughter filed papers and in May 2020, they received their release certificates.
They were saved by government officials from the silk factory in which they had been engaged for years, and eventually felt free enough to show CNN and the world their faces once again.