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Don Bosco Anbu Illam, Salem reunites a former bonded child labourer with parents after 11 years

By Casimir Raj .M SDB
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Chennai, Dec. 10. Tears of joy rolled down the eyes of the mother Vijaya and father Thangaraja 48 as they took back their son Meganathan 22 whom they left with a locally powerful debtor along with his younger brother when they were barely ten and nine years of age.

The emotional reunion took place in Don Bosco Anbu Illam (DBAI), Salem on Wednesday, formally in the presence of Ms. Uma Maheswari, District Child Protection Officer, Mr. Dass, Chairperson, Child Welfare Committee, and Fr. Dr.Casimir Raj Director, DBAI, Salem.
A construction worker from Thurinjipatti village near Bommidi in Dharmapuri District, Thangaraj had three sons and two daughters and was running deep into debts. He had taken a loan of Rs.40,000 for an emergency from the debtor in  Sapanipatti near Mettur. Since he delayed the repayment of the debt, the debtor took away Meganathan and his brother  Sarath Kumar forcibly and kept them as bonded labourers in his brick kiln.

''We tried hard to repay the money but couldn't. I made earnest requests to the debtor several times to let me have my boys, but he stubbornly refused to send them unless I repaid the loan. Since he was a locally powerful man, I could not fight my case against him'', says Thangaraja.  It was a painful life all these years for me without the two sons.  I lived with extreme swings of sorrow and guilt of being unable to redeem the boys from the clutches of the debtors, says Vijaya with words choking up her dried throat.

Meganathan says he and his brother were put to work in the brink kiln under harsh conditions. ''They used to make us graze cattle and clean their shed apart from the brickwork. For a year our parents did not come to take us back. One day, a woman, who used to work in the brick unit supervising, loading, and unloading work, enquired about me and my brother and asked whether we were interested in studying. I told her we do wish to study but we are only made to work here. A well-wisher called up Childline 1098 and the very next day (on 5th January 2012), the police and persons from Child Line, Salem came to the brick unit and rescued us. We were produced in Child Welfare Committee and we were handed over to Don Bosco Anbu Illam Children home in Salem and provided with shelter, education, technical and life skills there,'' reminiscences Meganathan.

Since then life in the boy's home changed their outlook and course of life. Meganathan says he and his brother Sarathkumar were put in school and while he passed 10th standard and went on to complete Industrial Training in Automobile mechanic trade the younger sibling chose to stop studies in 9th standard and took up a job as a driver in Tirupur. After completing  Industrial training, Meganathan says he worked for some time and then worked as a Staff at DBAI, Salem. When a staff there told him that he was also from Dharmapuri and they could make a visit during a holiday. Three days back they went to Dharmapuri and visited Meganathan's village. Remembering the school he studied Meganathan enquired the people about his father. Finally, he was able to trace his home.

''My mother broke down on my surprising and sudden appearance. She cried inconsolably, hardly able to listen to the story of my missing years. I used to be very fond of my mother so on seeing her, I decided to be with her. My father and my elder brother were on an outstation site at work. On my return to DBAI, I conveyed my wish to reunite with my family and it was immediately arranged. I also contacted my brother in Tirupur and told him about my contact with my parents and he too agreed to come back home''.

Fr. Casimir Raj, Director, DBAI, Salem says the return of Meganathan with his family assumes significance in the context of the Juvenile Justice Act's emphasis on children to be homebound except in extraordinary conditions. In fact, the institution had been taking efforts continuously to trace his parents said DBAI, Salem staff.

The next step, Meganathan says would be to find a job and support the family, and settled down in life. On how he felt leaving DBAI, he says, it was like being torn apart. ''It was also my home. But for the love and care from the DBAI, I would not have become what I am today. I lost interest in studies after I left my family but I regained it after coming here. I was encouraged to study and given all the support. I am leaving DBAI now as a person of good discipline and morals'' says Meganathan.

On his future vision for life, he says, I want to help people in trouble just as I received when I was lost and astray in life. Vijaya the mother said she was in deep sorrow over the separation of her sons all these years. It should have never happened but for the debts. I wished I could see them before my death but had very little hope that it would happen. I can't say how happy I feel now, said Vijaya tears welling up her eyes.

Finally, Meganathan departed from DBAI, with a commitment to be an agent of social transformation in creating a Child-Friendly Society.


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