My name is Santram Gond and I’m 18 years old. I live in Jharvira village in Harda district of Madhya Pradesh in (central) India. In my family I have my mother, father, younger brother and sister and an elder brother and sister. I worked as child bonded labourer for 9 years in my village. My village is divided into two parts, one part is inhabited by rich and powerful upper caste families with large land holdings but on the other side it is inhabited by poor and landless families from tribal community. There are around 40 families from Gond and Korku tribes living in this part of the village. I belong to Gond tribe. We do not own any piece of land in the village as all the land belongs to the upper caste people. Most of the tribal families are dependent on labour work for their livelihood on land owned by rich people. We work as casual labor, construction labor and agriculture labor. Some families are engaged in bonded labor work also. In my country employing a bonded labourer is a punishable offence but still due to poverty and ignorance people are forced into this practice.
A few years ago, my father took loan of five thousand rupees from a money lender for my elder sister’s marriage. After two years my father got paralysis attack and was bedridden for long time. Due to this he could not repay the loan. The money lender was regularly threatening my family to repay loan. On behalf of my father I had to go for work at his place. I worked there as bonded labour to repay the loan. I used to work for 12-14 hour per day without any holiday. I did cattle rearing, cleaning and feeding of cattle, house cleaning, agriculture work etc. I was never given any holiday. I was given rotten and stale food to eat. I never went to school and worked there for at least 9 years.
There were other children also who worked as bonded labour in my village. The tribal children from other nearby districts also came for work at various money lenders’ places.
Thanks to your support of Next Step, the situation in my village began to change when Synergy Sansthan and ActionAid started work with children and their families. In 2014, Synergy Sansthan conducted a survey to identify the 49 children engaged as bonded labour. My name was also included in the list. They shared the list with respective District Administration for rescue and rehabilitation of child engaged in bondage but they were reluctant to accept the existence of bonded labor in the area. In 2015, Synergy Santhan presented my case to the National Human Rights Commission. The commission gave a probe order in all the cases. Later on 28 th May 2015, the District Administration made me free from bondage work and gave a certificate of bonded labor. The certificate also fetched a monetary compensation of Rs 47,500 for me. This economic compensation was a big relief for my family.
A total of 155 identified children were made free from bonded labour working from 2014 to 2016. Ten employers were fined Rs 350,000 under the Minimum Wages Act 1948. Total 48 cases were presented in Human Rights Commission and 107 cases were presented in district Child Welfare Committee. Now, landlords are afraid to appoint any children in labor work.
The practice of bonded labor has reduced in the area. Today I am leading life free from any fear and abuse. I participate and share my views on eradication of bonded labour in meetings and workshops organised by Synergy Sansthan. Now, I am eighteen and working in an company in Indore where I earn Rs 250 per day.