Sandeep was enslaved in a carpet loom in Uttar Pradesh. He was liberated by activists from Bal Vikas Ashram (BVA), an organization that liberates and rehabilitates child slaves. He was found weaving carpets, wearing only underwear, and had been forced to weave rugs for 12-15 hours a day, beginning at 6am. From BVA he received medical care, counseling, literacy training, and basic rights education.
More than 300,000 children are estimated to be trapped in India’s carpet industry in India, and there are also an estimated 500,000 children in the same industry in Pakistan. Most of India’s carpets are woven in Uttar Pradesh, where the majority of workers are low-caste Hindu boys. Some are lured into bondage by agents’ promises to their parents that they will receive good wages, and others are kidnapped. The boys are forced to work for no pay, for 10-18 hours a day, seven days a week. They are beaten, tortured, branded, kept half fed and half clad, and are usually made to sleep in the loom shed. Cuts and wounds are frequent.
I was 12 years old when brought to the carpet loom. My father was working in brick kilns as a daily wage labor with no sufficient money to fill the stomachs of his five sons and one daughter. The miserable condition of the family was very disappointing for me. I always felt bad about the situation but not able to help out.
Day came, when one of the agents of the loom owner arrived to meet my father. At that time I was very curious to know why this man has come and started dreaming about my better future without knowing the consequences of it. The agent told my father that I would be in a better place than the present situation. Tricked by the man my father decided to send me with him. I also agreed to go since many other children were going along with him without knowing the upshot of it.
When I came to the loom, I came to know that the agent was the owner’s younger brother. From the time I entered the loom I was told very harshly to learn to weave carpet of the required length. It was a very bad experience for me. Anyhow I tried to adjust with it. But the things were not going in right direction I felt. I was made to work on looms from early morning, four am, to late at night, 10.30pm, with only two hours of break for daily activities and lunch as well as dinner. The owner’s father made me wake up early in the morning along with the other boys to work and by chance if I am not able to wake up and do the work at that time I was given hard thrashes on both my cheeks. One day I was beaten so badly by the owner’s father, I got a fracture in my hand and no treatment was given for my recovery.
I always demanded education as per promises made by the agent but I received beatings on my knees and elbows rather than pen and books. This went against my self-respect. Hence I tried to escape but was unfortunately caught. I tied the rope from the terrace of the house in which we were working and came down through it at midnight. I ran from that place and came nearly 25 kilometers away from that place. Since I was walking across the road and did not have a single penny to go by bus, I was caught by the man who was a watch dog for us. I failed to escape and was again in the trap of bondage. During night after work, I always used to think of my family and cry but there was no hope for me. I wish that in the future I will become a policeman and break the knees and elbows of these slaveholders, and not allow any children to go along with them even if he gives scores of money.
Narrative as told to Free the Slaves, July 19, 2005, at Bal Vikas Ashram, in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India.