Rescued from bonded slavery in Telangana three years ago, 23-year-old Mallaiah on Saturday sworn in as the Upa Sarpanch of Amaragiri village in Nagarkurnool district. In the recently concluded local body elections, Mallaiah secured 16 of the 31 votes. Along with Mallaiah, Kurumalla Devamma and Anjamma, who were also rescued from bonded labour, were also elected unopposed. All three belong to the Chenchu tribe, which is classified as a most backward class.
Mallaiah, Devamma and Anjamma along with 100 others were freed from bonded labour by the NGO, National Adivasi Security Council (NASC) in 2016. Though Mallaiah who had completed his schooling, he was forced into labour after his grandfather was unable to pay a loan. "Fortunately, I was freed from it," he tells TNM.
When asked what made him get into politics, he says, "I got the opportunity to do some good work, so I contested and won. I hope I'll live up to the expectations of my village."
Echoing Mallaiah's view, Devamma who has been elected as ward member says, "We want to work for our people. When we came forward to contest, the villagers were quite appreciative of it, and I want to reciprocate their love."
According to Mahesh, a volunteer from National Adivasi Solidarity Council (NASC), which carried out the rescue in 2016 some members of Chenchu tribe were working as bonded labourers for a debt of Rs 30,000. "Some people were working for three generations to repay the debt," says, Ch Vasudevan, Foundation for Sustainable Development, State Project Coordinator.
"In Amaragiri, the BC community used to lend loans to Chenchus, who primarily do fishing. However, later they insisted them to sell the produce to them, which would be at a much cheaper rate. While the market rate for the fishes would be Rs 100, they be would be forced to sell their produce for Rs 20 to them. This exploitation ensured that they never cleared the debts," says Vasudevan.
"These people are under educated hence never could question them or understand that they were being exploited," says, Mahesh.
NASC got a whiff of the bonded labour existing in Nagarkurnool when they found children working in a fish processing unit in Kollapur mandal. Subsequently, after reporting the incident to police and with the intervention of Revenue Department Officer, all of them were rescued and their debts were nullified with a Release Certificate. Among the rescued, 46 were minors.
According to NASC, they have rescued close to 580 Chenchus from the clutches of bonded labour in the last four years in Telangana.