Bonded and blinded, this TN man is now binding his life

Once, the boys thought they had that saviour when one of Arumugam’s friends from his village, P Murugan, got caught in the same trap and was brought to Allahabad.

Published: 03rd July 2022 05:32 AM  |   Last Updated: 03rd July 2022 05:32 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

MADURAI: It’s a routine day at work for V Arumugam as he cuts, sews, staples, and glues the printed pages lying before him to make books, pamphlets, and magazines out of them. As a binder at the Government Printing Press in Madurai for the past three years, he has been living in the midst of myriad stories and news from across the world. But never has he read them in these years; because he can’t.

The 37-year-old visually-impaired Sivaganga native could see the world till the age of 16. If not for an ill-fated decision that he took as an 11-year-old, the world of colours wouldn’t have eluded him. “I was at my sister’s house at Poikaraipatti in Madurai that day. We had an argument when I was looking after her child. In a fit of rage, I decided to flee. Later, when I was wandering around the bus stand, a man approached me and gave me an offer, to work in Allahabad for Rs 500 monthly,” he said.

”Not knowing what he was signing up for or who the man was, Arumugam accepted the offer. In hindsight, it was that one “yes” that changed it all. “I moved to Allahabad. On day one itself, I realised I was in hell. There were many Tamil boys of my age employed at a snacks manufacturing shop. The working conditions, food, and sleeping hours were so bad. But I didn’t have an option, I was forced to work from 4 am to 12 pm every day. They would even pour hot water on me if I got up late in the morning. With no money and not knowing the language, we were longing for a saviour to come and somehow rescue us,” says Arumugam.

Once, the boys thought they had that saviour when one of Arumugam’s friends from his village, P Murugan, got caught in the same trap and was brought to Allahabad. “Being a guy who could manage any situation, we thought he could help us out. We decided to help him escape first so that he can later rescue everyone. We stole money and made arrangements for Murugan to flee.” But Murugan was caught. “The owner attacked us and gave us electric shocks. I lost my vision because of that...,” there are tears in Arumugam’s eyes when he reveals it.

As fate would have it, just as more darkness was creeping into his life, members of the Society for Community Organisation (SOCO), a human rights advocacy group, found the bonded labourers and rescued them from the “masters”. Thus, in 2001, the 88 boys broke free from their cages.“My parents approached SOCO while searching for me. Though rescued, my health condition was worse. I thought I wouldn’t survive. I did though, but without ever getting my eyesight back,” he recalls the days when thoughts of the traumatic past took a beating of his mental health.After SOCO offered him counselling and help getting government benefits, Arumugam got adjusted to his new life, as he cleared Class 10 in Madurai and later got himself trained at the Institute of Printing Technology in Chennai.

“Without eyes, I faced many challenges in leading a life. But friends, parents, and members of SOCO gave me the courage. I married my cousin Muthammal in 2013 and fathered two kids,” Arumugam says. After trying his hand as a seller of agarbatti and pen, and chair-seat weaver, he started applying for government jobs and wrote competitive exams. His efforts fetched good results, as he got a job at the printing press. And that is where he cuts out the shards of his traumatic past from his mind; and sews, staples and glues the fine moments of his life to give it a happy climax.



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