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Pepperdine | Caruso School of Law

Back to the Village

By Joe S.

As my final week in India rolled around, I decided to make a concerted push to make sure I could get to the High Court or out to the villages one more time before I left.  As fortune would have it, I go to go 'on trip' for one last day, and it was quite a trip.

Our first stop was the Chennai High Court.  We were there to file a case, and a media report.  This was a big filing for us – the High Court had recently ruled that we could add an additional element* to a pending case.  Up to this point, the case was moving forward with some violations of the Indian Penal Code, including Bonded Labor, however the initial judge had not allowed the additional element to be added.  By being able to add this, if found guilty, the accused will be guilty for the crime of bonded labor, but he'll also be guilty for the additional element.  One of the biggest problems inIndiathat IJM is facing is getting actual convictions.  They have been very successful in getting victims rescued, but perpetrators have often just walked free.  By adding the additional element to the case, this will hopefully result in a greater punishment for the accused, but will act as a deterrent for other bonded labor law violators.

Our next stop was another court south of Chennai.  This court has been under boycott for quite some time; however we found out that recently an arrest had been made in one of our cases.  This is fantastic news, because as mentioned, arrests and persecutions are the biggest challenge for IJM.

We next went to a police station to speak with the head of the district police about a case.  While we were there, a group of about eight men came into the office and started speaking with the police chief.  I was worried at first that they were some of the accused we were seeking to prosecute, but fortunately it turned out that they were there for another matter.  The police chief agreed to make an arrest for the case we were there to present.

Finally we got to go to the village.  This had been my favorite experience of the trip last time we went, and this was another wonderful trip.  We met with a client, essentially a former victim of bonded labor.  We were there to request that the wife come testify against the accused in trial.  She was willing to come, however her husband was not ok with the idea.  Language was an issue, but it was my understanding he was concerned she may face backlash.  Eventually the husband brought the village chief into the conversation, and we were able to convince the chief and the husband that the wife would be safe.  So this woman packed a small bag and joined us for the long trip back to the city.  I was so amazed by this woman's braveness; she was willing to stand up to the person who had held her in bonded labor, with the goal of ensuring this person would not be able to do so again.  From her standpoint, she was already free, and so she could have easily said she didn't want to get involved, but she recognized that if she were able to testify, it would be more likely that future people in her situation would not suffer.  This is also a pending case, so there are no results, but this woman was a true inspiration.

*Edited because of the present nature of the case, apologies for the vagueness