Breaking shackles: Inspiring journey of two sisters rescued from bonded labour

Two sisters from Telangana who were rescued from a life of bonded labour overcame extreme poverty and recently passed Class 10, becoming the first generation literates in their family
Santhula Nandini and Santhula Anusha
Santhula Nandini and Santhula Anusha

HYDERABAD : As the students after a long summer vacation return to school to begin a new academic year from June 12 onwards to gear up for another year of learning and growing, the day also marks World Day Against Child Labour, a sobering reminder of the plight of many children trapped in bonded labour. This story highlights the experiences of two sisters from Mahbubnagar District, Santhula Anusha and Santhula Nandini, who were rescued from a life of bonded labour. In a conversation with CE, the two girls share their harrowing story of being forced into labour as children until they were rescued by members of the National Adivasi Solidarity Council.

Nandini recalls, “I was very young when I was taken to work. My parents took me there because a person promised us a house if we went with them. For almost seven months, they paid us regularly, but then they stopped. They only gave us food like rice and tomatoes and kept us in a shed without electricity. The shed was overcrowded, housing 13 families, making it very difficult to live. When any of us got sick, we received no medical care. We were forbidden to leave, even when we asked to move to another village. Eventually, my parents left my sister and me with our grandmother because the situation became unbearable.”

She continues, “We were made to break stones, regardless of our age or gender. We worked from morning until evening and received no medical attention if we got hurt. We even had to work in the houses of those who took charge of us. We were rescued when someone informed the police, but we were threatened with death if we tried to leave. After five years, we were finally freed, and now we are happily studying.”

Anusha shares her experience, “They lured us with promises of a house and necessities and made my parents sign a paper. We ended up doing all kinds of labour, including household work. My parents were distressed by our suffering. I started studying in the 5th standard and have now completed the 10th grade. It feels great to be studying and building my identity. We were just kids when we were forced into labour. Many other children were also rescued along with us. Now, we are well-fed and happy. I am the first in my family to pursue education. My parents and other family members were all labourers before.”

Chitha Krishna, the Rehabilitation Coordinator at the National Adivasi Solidarity Council, explains their efforts to rescue and educate these children. “In 2013, a person from Mahabubnagar lured families to Kolar district in Karnataka State with promises of good facilities. For seven months, they were treated well, but then the torture began. These families, uneducated and unaware, signed papers that falsely stated they had taken loans and needed to repay them. They were physically abused and forced to work from early morning. One person even lost his hand but was still made to work. We were informed about these conditions and managed to rescue them in a dramatic turn of events.”

“In 2018, they settled in Motinagar, Mahbubnagar. Nandini and Anusha were taken to Hyderabad and given proper education. We have also taken care of all the children who were bonded labourers. These girls, once 10-11 years old, are now 16 and have passed their 10th examinations,” Krishna concludes.

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