S. Vidya, 35, a rescued bonded labourer from Meesanallur village in Tiruvannamalai district, is gearing up for a new task. She is expecting a job at a petrol bunk in Pazhaveri village near Vandavasi, to be run by a women Self-Help Group (SHG) comprising rescued bonded labourers like her, from Pazhaveri and Meesanallur villages.
The petrol bunk is one of the livelihood initiatives introduced by Tiruvannamalai Collector K.S. Kandasamy, through the Tamil Nadu State Rural Livelihood Mission (TNSRLM).
My husband was a bonded labourer in Periyapalayam. After I got married to him, I too, became one. My husband is no more, and I was rescued a few months ago. My daughter Sathya studies well, and I am willing to work hard to ensure a bright future for her, says Ms. Vidya.
According to officials, the bunk will be run by 10 persons, selected among the 113 rescued bonded labourer families, residing in the model villages for rescued bonded labourers in Meesanallur and Pazhaveri in Vandavasi Taluk, Tiruvannamalai district. This is a novel initiative, said Y. Jhonson, assistant project officer, TNSRLM.
The 113 families have formed livelihood groups, and have been involved in various activities including running a cattle shed, charcoal production, growing Azolla , a brick kiln and paper-bag making among other initiatives. The district administration is planning to bring all these groups under one umbrella by forming a producer company.
The bunk, being constructed by Bharat Petroleum, will be coming up in Pazhaveri village, on the road connecting Tindivanam and Vandavasi. It will have both diesel and petrol. It will be managed by women and will have male workers. Each person will get a decent salary and the profit will also be accumulated in the SHG, he added.
The labourers will be provided a 15-day training course on how to run the petrol bunk. Bharat Petroleum will train them on basic operations like filling petrol, managing accounts, how to behave with customers and fire safety. After this they will be ready to work, said M. Muthukumaran, block mission manager, Tamil Nadu State Women Development Corporation.
Life has changed
P. Muniappan, another rescued bonded labourer, is now part of the charcoal production unit. "I studied till 9th standard and was then forced into bonded labour near Arani. I want my children to study well. The charcoal unit fetches a profit of 3 lakh. After giving monthly salaries to the tune of Rs. 10,000 to around 22 people, tihe remaining profit is deposited in our group account. We will invest this in another livelihood activity, he said.
There are a total of 114 cows in the cattle shed, and on an average they provide 180 litres per day. This is given to Aavin and it fetches a good revenue. While working as bonded labourers we never used to get money, now we are able to save money for our children. Our lives have improved a lot and we are able to walk with our heads held high, added Ms. Vidya.
More facilities needed
"We have an anganwadi, park for children and a community hall. Each house is fitted with a bio-gas unit for the cooking needs and manure from the cattle shed and food waste is fed into it, said M. Kanniappan, a resident. Meanwhile, residents said that they needed good transport connectivity. We have to walk quite a distance to get a bus. Besides, we need a ration shop and a public health centre. If possible, a place of worship too, said Mr. Muniappan.