The boys worked for goat herd owner G Govindarajan, a resident of Ramanathapuram, who paid their parents, Sundaraj and Bapathi, Rs 62,000 and took the boys away.
Govindarajan convinced parents to sell the two younger boys for Rs 6,000 each
Inquiries revealed their parents, who were eking out a living in a charcoal unit, sold the two older boys for Rs 50,000 for herding 500 goats.
Exploiting their abject poverty, Govindarajan convinced them to sell the two younger boys for Rs 6,000 each. Govindarajan sold the two boys to his relatives. He later admitted to buying and selling the boys, said P Pathimaraj of childline 1098 – SHED India, an NGO.
Pathimaraj told TOI that the story of the four boys was just the tip of the iceberg of a cruel bonded labour system prevailing in the delta region. The NGO has rescued at least 40 children in the last couple of years. While Vetrivel and Velayutham managed to escape, Govindarajan handed over their two younger siblings to officials of the multidepartment task force in Thanjavur on December 5 following stern warning.
After a day with members of the Thanjavur district child protection unit, Vetrivel and Velayutham smiled for the first time in two years on seeing their younger brothers. “They were together after two years. They didn’t know what to talk about. But they felt safe and secure being together,” said a member of the committee.
Recalling their life in bondage, the boys said they lost contact with their family.
Their sole company was the herd and they took the livestock for grazing for not less than 10 km a day. Their day started as the first rays of the sun stroked their village and extended well into dusk.
They moved from one place to another place and suffered the vicious cycle of migration every three to four months. “What they got to eat was kanji (porridge) daily. They rarely got Arisi Soru (rice). They often dreamt of having Arisi Soru. The owner verbally and physically abused them. On that particular day, the owner hit them severly as one of the goats in the herd was missing,” said a member of the rescue team, quoting the two older boys.
The children lost social skills and found it difficult to converse. They are now under the care of the district child welfare committee. After an intense inquiry, which proved that the boys lived in bondage, the district administration handed over their release certificates. “We have initiated action against Govindarajan for forcing the children into bonded labour,” said Thanjavur revenue divisional officer M Ranjith.
The parents of the boys told the officials that their livelihood had been severely affected following the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown. They faced difficulty in making ends meet. It was then that Govindarajan approached them and asked them to send their children with him, promising to feed them and not give them hard work.