[Survivor Series] I worked as a bonded labourer for over 28 years before I was freed

In this week's Survivor Series, Chikkanarasappa says he was forced to become a bonded labourer at the age of 10, but that he is finally free and able to look after his family

My name is Chikkanarasappa. I am 55 years old and I belong to a Scheduled Caste community in Gudibande taluk in Karnataka. I was born into a family as one of five siblings. My father made a living selling firewood.  But that was not enough to put enough food on the table. He certainly could not afford to educate us. My father was forced to take a loan of Rs 250 from Nagappa Doddapusalani. In exchange, my brother and I had to go work in his house as bonded labourers. 

Bonded labourers being led out after the rescue operation

I was only 10 years old at the time. My annual wage was Rs 100, but I did not mind as I was given food to eat as well. I had to graze the sheep during the day, and I would sleep on jute bags in the cattle shed. I worked in his house for eight years and was sent to work in the fields after I turned 18 years old. Despite having to work all day, I can say that he never mistreated me or was cruel.

But that changed after my father was forced to take a Rs 300 loan from a man named Krishna Reddy. I was forced to wake up early, tie the cattle outside the shed and clean it, and get fodder for the cattle before heading to the fields to work the whole day. He was a very cruel man and would kick me and thrash me with firewood if he felt I was not doing my work well. I was also not allowed to take any rest. 

Our family decided to migrate to Bagepalli, the neighbouring taluk, when a drought hit our area. I started work grazing cattle for a person in the Kuruba community. My father started cultivating a piece of government land, which he was later allotted. He suggested that I join him as well, but we had no implements to do the work. As food was scarce, we migrated to Nallagondaiahgari village. 

My father took a loan of Rs 5,000 from Hampasandra Peer Sab and sent me to do bonded service in his house to repay the loan. He looked after me very well and even though my salary was Rs 600, he looked after me very well and even arranged my marriage. 

In 1994, I was still working in his home when I met Jeevika coordinator Narayanaswamy. He educated me about the rights of a bonded labourer and sent a report to the government. I started attending meetings at night, where they increased our awareness about laws through revolutionary songs.

The government then provided me with a release certificate and Rs 1,000 as an initial rehabilitation amount in 2010 and released me from bondage.  

After that, I bought two cows and am managing my family by selling milk. My first son has studied till Class VI and is now grazing goats. My second son studied till Class X and works as a lorry driver. My daughters are married and living in their husbands’ houses.  

I worked as a bonded labourer in various houses for 28 years. In 2012, the government provided me Rs 7,200, a monthly pension, and a house under the Ashraya scheme. These are all the benefits I received owing to the intervention by Jeevika. I am also a member of the Union of bonded labourers and agriculture labourers. The state co-ordinator Kiran Kamal Prasad was also very helpful and I am grateful to all the activists for the life I am leading now.

Edited by Diya Koshy George