Child labour in India. File photo/ Reuters
A rare compensation award to a bonded worker whose child was killed at a textile factory in India could act as a precedent for other slavery survivors seeking justice, human rights campaigners said on Friday.
Balasubramani Pathran was awarded 300,000 Indian rupees ($4,312) by the Tamil Nadu state government this week, five years after his six-year-old daughter was electrocuted in a power loom factory where he worked as a bonded labourer.
“I will always regret leaving my daughter behind at the power loom, but I had no choice,” Pathran told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone.
“The owner wouldn’t let my wife and me go home unless we left her behind. We went in the morning and by the time we came back from our village, she was dead.”
Despite a government ban, tens of thousands of people continue to work as bonded labourers in India, with employers often keeping children as collateral when their parents travel back home for family events like weddings and funerals.
Some 500,000 manual labourers in 11 industries in Tamil Nadu are trapped in debt bondage according to the International Justice Mission (IJM), an anti-slavery organisation.
With many slavery survivors across India also seeking compensation over abuses, this award will give hope to thousands, said Kuralamuthan Thandavarayan, director at IJM.
“It is a first and it will give hope to others who decide to fight for their rights,” he said.
Thangavel Maran, director of charity Vizhuthugal that works on the rescue and rehabilitation of bonded workers, said that the power loom owner had wanted to ensure that the parents of the child came back and continued to work.
“This family’s struggle for justice is representative of what thousands of bonded labourers go through even after they are rescued, from having to prove they are victims to getting compensation and justice,” he said.
The compensation was awarded on the orders of India’s National Human Rights Commission, which declared in 2018 that the couple were victims of bonded labour - four years after they were rescued.
“The money we have got means nothing,” Parthan said. “I so clearly remember the casual manner in which the power loom owner told us about our daughter’s death.
“Her death was not an accident and this compensation recognises that. For us that is what matters.”
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