Back in 2012, Ranjita’s family were forced to migrate for work after a drought devastated their community.
Ranjita (12), along with her sisters Reema (14) and Sujata (10), travelled with their parents to work in a brick kiln. What waited for them was a total nightmare.
“I know that this is a problem in my community—this problem of bonded labour. I myself was a labourer. ”
The kiln owner and his henchmen would force the workers out of their homes before sunrise to make thousands of bricks.
Ranjita remembers how the owner’s men would repeatedly threaten her parents, saying they would give electric shocks and peel their skin if they were not found working.
She remembers, “Afraid that they would harm my parents, my sisters and I would turn as many bricks as possible.”
After months of abuse, government officials arrived to bring Ranjita’s family to safety. But the kiln owner threatened to harm the children and tried to hide them away.
Ranjita shares, “We were taken to the forest and kept there for many hours…He hit us when we were reluctant to go, and we started to cry.”
Local officials began a diligent search of the area. To the families’ relief, they found the children in the woods and reunited them with their parents in freedom.
Ranjita’s family were finally able to return home. As they resettled, the government and local civil society organizations helped the survivors receive much-needed government benefits.
The kiln owner and two of his associates were arrested. Ranjita’s parents travelled three times to testify in court until the three accused were convicted and sentenced to two years in jail.
With that painful chapter closed, Ranjita worked her way through high school. But personal success wasn’t enough for Ranjita. She started thinking about how she could help other people like herself.
Reflecting on the support she’d received from IJM staff, she said, “We felt we could always approach them for help because they are good people.”
Interacting with IJM staff inspired Ranjita to consider a career in social work. Her opportunity arrived in mid-2020 when the world was suddenly faced with the Covid-19 pandemic.
The strict lockdowns left IJM’s aftercare staff unable to reach thousands of survivors living in rural villages. Many families had lost regular work during the lockdowns and needed extra support to avoid accepting risky job offers that could result in trafficking.
To reach these families, IJM invited local, budding survivor leaders to serve their own community as Covid Relief Coordinators (CRCs). With training, support, and a small salary, IJM believed these leaders could more quickly meet their urgent needs.
IJM staff saw Ranjita’s potential and invited her to help pilot the programme. She says with a smile, “I grabbed the offer.”
Ranjita helped educate families about the risks of migration and human trafficking. Over time, she began helping survivors advocate for all kinds of government programmes and benefits—from small business loans to ID cards to higher education.
Ranjita says, “It gives me a lot of joy. I have worked in other professions, but there’s nothing as fulfilling as this one.”
Today Ranjita is a confident, articulate, and fearless young woman. Ranjita has leveraged her experiences to become a prominent leader in her local survivor group in the Released Bonded Laborers Association (RBLA).
Mentorship from IJM has made a significant difference in Ranjita’s life and how she sees herself—especially as a young woman with the opportunity to lead in her own community.
“It is very rare for girls in my community to engage in work like this,” Ranjita explains. “But my mother has been my biggest support.”
“I am amazed to see the transformation in Ranjita,” says IJM staff. “I visited the family in 2021 and saw Ranjita for the first time. She was extremely shy.
“Two years hence, I am meeting a completely transformed Ranjita. She is standing before officials, police and government sharing her story confidently. She is being interviewed by journalists. I have not witnessed a transformation like this ever before in my life.”
“A lot has changed in my life,” Ranjita explains confidently. “I have to talk to the community, talk to the officials. It has made me more confident. My exposure to government offices has helped me broaden my personality and become a go-getter.”