By Sharon Daniel
Kavitha* died earlier this year from complications related to AIDS. She was trafficked to a neighbouring state in South India, where she was sexually abused while working as a bonded labourer on a road construction site. She was diagnosed with the condition quite late and was not able to access medical facilities on time.
Bharathi* had to undergo corrective surgery on her uterus as she experienced tremendous exertion at the brick kiln where she was exploited as a bonded labourer. She had to work round the clock and keep her children living in the facility away from wild elephants that frequented the site at night. She, along with the children, would run and hide in a hole dug on the ground. Her uterus had dropped from its original position due to the pressure. She cannot do hard labour anymore, and her husband earns for their survival.
Meenamma* lies paralysed on a bed, an effect on her body, from working unearthly hours and years in a catfish farm. Her husband who suffers from body ailments due to the same work is the sole earner in the family.
Health-related expenses are one of the topmost reasons that individuals borrow a monetary advance from an agent or employer and inadvertently enter bondage. Most of these individuals belong to vulnerable groups like Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes, and they survive on a day to day basis. They earn a living, but they spend whatever little they earn. There is no saving for tomorrow; there is no bank account involved. To cover larger expenses like medical bills, they usually rely on local money lenders and thekedars who offer jobs. It would be easier to rely on an ASHA worker or visit the village Public Health Centre – but what if they do not function properly? District hospitals are situated far, and the lack of transportation facilities do not help. Out of cultural habits and experiences, people from these vulnerable groups often rely on magico-religious forms of ‘treatment’. Neither of these aid in availing proper treatment to health issues.
For Kavitha, it was too late, for Bharathi, help came on time, and for Meenamma, it’s an ongoing battle. All three were rescued from bondage, but people like them who experience ill effects of exploitation are back to the vulnerable position of possibly borrowing money again for treatment, from unsafe sources, if they’re not in a better position in life. The cycle of exploitation continues. In the fight for justice on the crime committed against them, there is a need for holistic rehabilitation that brings people to a place of safety from vulnerability.
* Names changed to protect the identity