Shyam (10) is unable to walk properly after four years of sitting at just one place 22 hours a day. Lucky (10), could not open his eyes when he saw the sunlight first time in four years. They were beaten with hammers for reasons such as cooking extra rice, dozing off at work and even trying to go to the washroom during work.
Their job was to cut threads of jeans and pack it. The task was to pack 10 pieces in 10 minutes and the one who finished last used to be beaten with a hammer by the employer. The tale of extreme torture was disclosed by the 26 boys, in the age group of 8 to 13, who were rescued from a jeans factory in northeast Delhi’s Seelampur area last month.
“We were allowed to sleep at 5 am and the employer used to wake us up at 7 am. In between work, if we fell asleep, he used to wake us up by hitting us with a hammer. For four years, we were having two meals in a day - potato and rice. The menu never changed and we were not allowed to go out of the room even for a second,” said Raheem, a 7-year-old boy, who was brought in to the factory six months ago.
Shyam, who has seen at least five new boys coming every month, could not move on his own when he was rescued. “He had to be lifted. Now, we are giving him physiotherapy and he has started moving his feet. Almost every boy has injury marks on their body and has vitamin deficiency. We have never seen this kind of torture in our life,” said a member of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, an NGO run by Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi. The NGO runs a children home ‘Mukti Ashram’ in north Delhi’s Burari, where these boys are staying and getting treatment so that they can lead a normal life.
“We were kept in a small room and I have not seen the sunlight in four years. When, I was rescued, I could not open my eyes as I was not used to it. We were not allowed to take bath or go to washroom since every day we used to pack 5,000 pieces of jeans,” said Lucky.
All boys are from Motihari district of Bihar and were brought to Delhi around six months ago. Six of them are from the same village, indicating that they could have been victims of child trafficking.
“I am furious. Twenty six child slaves were rescued and most of them have not even seen daylight in four years. I recall a similar case from 1983 when all 27 children we freed from the carpet industry in Mirzapur were beaten, branded, hanged upside down on trees,” said Satyarthi.
He said there is little change even after three decades. Each child rescued from Seelampur has faced the worst form of slavery. Their hands are scarred, they carry burn marks all over their bodies and their arms have signs of torture.
“Are children not safe anywhere, not even in the capital of the country? Slavery is not a myth. Child abuse and violence against children are all harsh realities surrounding us. We have to wake up to this bitter truth. I strongly demand fast track courts, child friendly court procedures and time bound trials so that our children and their childhoods do not have to wait,” said Satyarthi.
The case began to unravel after six children roaming at Anand Vihar railway station were noticed by NGO Childline on February 3. The children said that they had fled from the factory and wanted to go back to their hometown. They also told the NGO that there are many other children trapped in the factory.
The matter was brought to the notice of the Child Welfare Committee which asked police and NGO to conduct a raid at the location described by the children.
A joint team conducted the raid in Seelampur and 20 more children were rescued on the same day. The children were confined in one room and were living in pathetic conditions. Police also arrested the owner of the jeans factory.
According to a global survey report, India has the largest population of modern slaves in the world, with more than 18 million people trapped as bonded labourers, forced beggars, sex workers and child soldiers. The Global Slavery Index by human rights organisation Walk Free Foundation said the number was 1.4% of India’s population.
*Names have been changed to protect identity