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Secluded Irula Snake Catcher Tribe of India will Now have their Own ‘Fantasy Homes’

Irula is an ethnic tribe of Indian states - Tamil Nadu and Kerela. Traditionally, the primary occupation of Irula was snake and rat catching

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Irula snake catcher, tribe
Irula snake catcher people. Wikimedia

Chennai, August 23, 2017: A novel project, ‘Fantasy Homes’ was initiated to rehabilitate families of Irula snake catchers in a complex that will house more than 300 people, who are trapped at the helm of debt bondage.

Irula is an ethnic tribe of Indian states – Tamil Nadu and Kerela. Traditionally, the primary occupation of Irula was snake and rat catching.

According to the non-profit International Justice Mission, an estimated number of 463,000 bonded labor were tricked into submitting themselves for work as collateral for a debt inherited from a relative which takes ages to return. The government data estimated 100,000 Irula people subsisting in Tamil Nadu.

Notwithstanding the 1976 ban imposed on bonded labor, many of them are still the victim of debt bondage and face slavery at places like rice mills, brick kilns, and brothels.

Last year, the government took some measure to reduce debt bondage, as a part of which they devised plans to rescue 18 million bonded laborers by 2030. To tackle with modern slavery, it also increased compensation for rescued workers by five folds.

However, it was hard to ensure the safety of Irula people as their fundamental work has always been snake catching and live in makeshift homes. Owing to no permanent shelter and limited job opportunities, the snake catcher community becomes easy targets for intermediaries seeking for cheap labor and more vulnerable to slavery.

The rehabilitation project was a brainchild of Prabhushankar Thangaraj Gunalan, a junior bureaucrat in the Tamil Nadu government.

ALSO READ: ‘Tribes of India’- An Online Database to Document the Lives of Indian Tribes 

Gunalan, a medical doctor by training, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, “There were hundreds who were being rescued and sent back home, and the onus of their rehabilitation was falling on us.”

“When they came back, they didn’t have a home we could send them to. The existing rehabilitation process was piecemeal. I wanted to create something sustainable.”

A venom extraction unit, charcoal making unit, brick kilns, and traditional medicinal herbs nursery will accentuate the inherent strength of the community and generate employment.

Devi and Selvam, members of the once-Nomadic Irula tribe, will be among the first residents of Abdulkalam Puram, a “rural gated community” outside Vandavasi in Thiruvannamalai district to own a house of their own.

“In a few months, this will be our home,” said Devi.

“For the first time, we will live in a house where the thatch roof doesn’t fly off in the rains, and there is a proper door, instead of a torn cloth we hang to ensure some privacy.

Devi and Selvam find the process incredible. “It looks nice,” they murmured as they watch the houses being painted.

“It’s been two years since I first thought of the project and today there is this satisfaction that something has been accomplished,” Gunalan said. “The Irulas are getting what is rightfully theirs.”


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Rescued Bonded Laborers Need Psychological Help to Battle Mental Trauma: Study

Some rescued bonded laborers are coming together to lobby for their rights and share their stories

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Bonded laborers
India announced an ambitious goal last year to rescue more than 18 million bonded laborers by 2030. VOA
  • Freedom becomes an alien concept to bonded laborers and they constantly battle with their captivity mentality
  • India announced an ambitious goal last year to rescue more than 18 million bonded laborers by 2030
  • While survivors of sex trafficking often receive help in shelter homes, rescued bonded laborers simply return to their villages and completely shut down
 After his rescue from abuse and overwork as a bonded laborer in a brick kiln in south India, Shanmugam Paneer has set up his own business making household items from bamboo.But the lifeless monotone he uses to describe his five-year ordeal betrays an inner struggle to move on from one of India’s most prevalent forms of human trafficking.

“For many, the process of coming out with the truth is far more painful than actually living those years in bondage,” said Loretta Jhona, a counselor with the U.S.-based charity International Justice Mission.

“Freedom becomes an alien concept and they constantly battle with their captivity mentality.”

Though India banned bonded labor in 1976, it remains widespread, with millions working in fields, brick kilns, rice mills, and brothels, or as domestic workers to pay off debts.

India announced an ambitious goal last year to rescue more than 18 million bonded laborers by 2030 and to increase fivefold the compensation that is paid to them, as part of a wider drive to tackle modern slavery.

Rescued workers need more psychological help to become truly free, counselors say, as they are often too scared to admit to suffering, such as sexual abuse, for fear of retribution from their former owners.

 bonded laborers
Young Indian bonded child laborers wait to be processed at a safe house after being rescued during a raid by workers from Bachpan Bachao Andolan, or Save the Childhood Movement, at a factory in New Delhi, India, June 11, 2013. VOA

“People are released physically but not really released from the burden of the debt, or the mental trauma they have undergone,” said Umi Daniel, a migration expert at the Aide et Action International charity.

Many former slaves instinctively curl up in their beds, used to spending a couple of hours sleeping in a cramped space, Jhona told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

While survivors of sex trafficking often receive help in shelter homes, rescued bonded laborers simply return to their villages and completely shut down.

“Very often there is no talk of the years spent in bondage,” said Jhona, adding that workers often find it hard to tell her of their hopes for the future.

“They ask us how they can have aspirations when even to eat or sleep they needed permission from their owners,” she said.

ALSO READ: India accounts for almost 40 percent of the worldwide laborers

“It is heartbreaking to see people with nil dreams and no aspirations, even for their children. They don’t think a better future can exist and most refuse to talk about any of it for months.”

No fear

Some rescued bonded laborers are coming together to lobby for their rights and share their stories.

Rukamana Deep says he finally “felt free” when he gave a lecture at the Odisha National Law University in April, describing how his family of four were trapped in a brick kiln.

Deep was able to tell his tale in detail, recounting his anger, despair, and helplessness as they worked round the clock to make up to 1,000 bricks a day for 100 Indian rupees ($1.56).

“There was no fear that day,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview from his village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha. “I just wanted to tell my story.”

Deep says his confidence comes from the fact that he knows he is not alone, after attending monthly meetings of a migrant bonded labor forum, Dadan Goti Shramik Surakshya Manch.

“We just talk about a lot of things, including the present challenges and the past problems,” he said. “We understand each other and also create teams that immediately reach out to recently rescued workers. It’s important for them to talk.”

Daniel, of Aide et Action International, believes such forums are critical.

“It’s a big step in their healing process,” he said. (VOA)