In New Testament Greek 'coming' and 'going' are the same word - erkomae. Which was very apt for when I was studying Greek that's a bit like how I felt. I didn't know if I was......you get the picture. And today has been a bit like that. Up at 4.15am, having failed to get to sleep until 12.30am, when 4.15am stills feels a bit like 10.45pm the previous night (you are and a half hours behind me in the UK). Are you still with me? The reason for the rather early start was a flight to the Punjab at 8.00am.
This was to be a domestic flight of just over one hour to Chandigarh, the capital of the Punjab region, where we were going to meet with two families that IJM had rescued from bonded labour. A man in an army style uniform checked my boarding pass at the entrance door to the terminal. I crossed 5 metres across a corridor that had no other access points where another man, in an identical uniform checked my boarding pass. Success. I was in the terminal building. My boarding pass was checked another four times before I got onto the plane, and on one of those occasions was stamped enthusiastically. Twice. I noticed the sign that told me that my spear gun had to go in my hand luggage and that I could only take 100ml of water onto the plane. That said I think they must have been too busy stamping my boarding card to notice my 200ml water bottle. And the spear gun? Least said about that the better.
After an uneventful flight, with seasonally appropriate canned music, we arrived at Chandigrah to be met by IJM's man in the field, BJ. Warm and welcoming, he placed garlands around our necks and chatted freely about his region and it's hospitable people. And hospitable they certainly were, for after a drive of about an hour we met with KC and his wife who, along with their two children had been enslaved in a brick kiln for a year, to clear a debt. They met us with garlands, home made coconut sweets and lasse, a local soured milk drink that we sipped politely - once. They were so happy with life. He had purchased two cows (hence the lasse) and he was able to sell the milk. He had acquired a third one and now one of his cows was in calf and two were expected. In addition to this he works some shifts in a local factory for which he receives a proper wage.
They had ended up in the brick kiln because his father had become indebted to the kiln owner through an unrepayble advance. The money was borrowed for KC's sister's wedding (it is shameful not to be able to provide your daughter with a lavish wedding as I discovered to my cost - just joking, Pippa). All his money went on repayment and he got further and further into debt. For 10 years he was enslaved there, too fearful to leave, as others were beaten and threatened in his presence. And so KC was dragged into this appalling situation, the owner saying that his father was so far in debt that as his son it was his responsibility to work there, too. Again, coupled with threats and an awareness of the owners violence, and for love of his father, he complied.
Indian law defines bonded labour as labour enforced by an advance and one of the following:
- restricted movement
- restricted freedom of employment
- failure to pay the minimum wage
- restricted freedom to sell goods
All of these applied here. KC described the conditions as 'harsh'. I'd say so! Up at 3.00am in the summer, and 5.00am in the winter, working until 10.00am mixing the clay. The winters are very cold and wet. The summer scorchingly hot. Then cutting and shifting bricks for the next 12 hours, day after day with no break. Finishing at 10pm. Then up again at 3.00am and so it went on, and on, and on. Relentless. And his wife was doing this too. I asked where the children were whilst they worked like this? Just sitting there. They couldn't play with them, entertain them or take them to school. They were forced to live on site in a shack. It killed KC's father. But the owner showed no pity and told KC that he must continue working for him to clear his father's debt. In English law your debts die with you and it is most likely the same in India so this was a plane lie, a deception, but who could KC turn to? Who was there to help? And it wasn't just him. There were 35 families in exactly the same situation in this kiln.
It was following an IJM investigation that KC and his family were rescued. But it didn't stop there. BJ holds monthly survivor meetings to help empower those released into a new life of self worth, self governance and freedom. The Indian social economist Amartya Sen writes about 'Development as Freedom' and here before us in such an example. What did it mean to them to be free? Their children could get an education, they could spend time together when they chose to, they could earn their own money and be entrepreneurs. They were free to be.
On our way back we stopped at a Sikh temple, an amazing place, where a condition of entry was the removal of shoes and socks and the wearing of a head covering. Tim's looked like my Grandma's curtains. Sometimes, Tim, you should be a little more careful how you use your freedom.