Soni and Mohan Devi worked with the National Institute for Rural Development, Education, Social Upliftment & Health (NIRDESH) in India
Seven years ago, Soni Devi was a day labourer in the fields around her village when her eldest son, Mohan, disappeared. For three years, he could not be found. Though she did not know it then, Mohan had been trafficked and enslaved in a bulb factory in Delhi, where he was not allowed out of the factory campus.
Years later, a labourer from Soni’s village began working in the same bulb factory as Mohan. During the Chhat Festival, the labourer, Ramesh, returned to his village and attended a meeting for migrant labourers conducted by NIRDESH, a Freedom Fund community partner. A representative of NIRDESH explained slavery and human trafficking, and persuaded Ramesh to cooperate with other migrant labourers to facilitate the rescue of children enslaved as bonded labourers in the bulb factory in Delhi and elsewhere.
Upon returning to Delhi, Ramesh quietly questioned the children working in the factory, discovering where they came from. Along with other migrant labourers in Delhi, Ramesh rescued nine children from the factory.
Mohan returned home and was reunited with his mother, who was now a member of a self-help group organized by NIRDESH. Soni called her husband back from Bangalore and suggested they open a shop. They have since opened a shop and sell enough food to support the family. “I do not worry now,” Soni told NIRDESH. “My husband and son have come home. Although we earn very little, they do not have to go to other states for work anymore. Thank you very much for your program. We thank you from the bottom of our heart that through this program we are safe now.”
Manav Sansadhan Evam Mahila Vikas Sansthan (MSEMVS) is an implementing partner for the Freedom Fund’s Hotspot in Uttar Pradesh, India
Established in 1990, MSEMVS has been combatting slavery for more than 20 years. Working primarily in rural settings and in villages with a high percentage of bonded labourers, the MSEMVS comprehensive model begins by gaining community trust and raising the villagers’ awareness of their rights, then helps villagers to advocate for their freedom and put in place the mechanisms necessary to prevent them from becoming enslaved again. This includes supporting villagers to establish community vigilance committees, creating alternative means of income, and establishing informal education centres for the children.
In Bhadoli district, a hub for slavery and exploitation, MSEMVS has identified one of the most vulnerable small clusters of villages (Nyay Panchayat). Based on an intensive survey of 1,865 households in the district, MSEMVS has focused its efforts in a cluster of twelve villages, systematically implementing project interventions in these villages to transform it into a “slave-free” panchayat. Freedom Fund research, to be conducted through early 2015, will assess the success of this model, as well as the economic and social dividends villagers have achieved as a result. Once evaluated, this scalable model can be adapted in other areas where rural bonded labour is prevalent, elsewhere in India and beyond.