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Children's Testimonies
Small Change: Bonded Child Labor in India's Silk Industry
Before I came here I went to [a government] school, but after one year I withdrew from school because of a problem—my sister’s illness. After my sister got sick, we took her to the hospital, but the doctor said we had to pay more money, so my parents bonded me for Rs. 1,700 [U.S.$35]. I was seven or eight years old.

I did winding [unwinding the cocoons]. I didn’t like to work, but I was forced to by my parents. They said I couldn’t go to school but had to work....

At 4:00 a.m. I got up and did silk winding.... I only went home once a week. I slept in the factory with two or three other children. We prepared our food there and slept in the space between the machines. The owner provided the rice and cut it from our wages—he would deduct the price. We cooked the rice ourselves. We worked twelve hours a day with one hour for rest. If I made a mistake—if I cut the thread—he would beat me. Sometimes [the owner] used vulgar language. Then he would give me more work.
 —“Yeramma S.,” eleven-year-old girl, bonded at around age seven for Rs. 1,700 (U.S.$35) Karnataka, March 27, 2002

This is the thing that God blessed me with so I have to work like this. I can’t do something else.... It is written on my head and nobody can change this. I am born into this community so we don’t know what else to do. We have to do this and nothing else.... I don’t want to go to the looms but there is no other way.

My first loan was Rs. 6,000 [U.S.$125] from the first owner. Then we got another Rs. 1,000 [$21] from the second owner, and he paid the first owner. If I paid the loan back, then I wouldn’t have to go to work. If there were no loan, I could stop working and go to the regular school.... Now we are unable to pay back the loan. My father is ill so we can’t stop working.... I don’t like the looms, but my parents ask me to go so I go, but I hadn’t thought there would be this much pain in the work.... There is no play time for me. If I have time, I will work in the house.... When I am not working in the loom I will do heavy housework. I will take the manure and work in the cattle farm.
 —“Vimali T.,” fifteen-year-old low-caste girl, bonded to a loom owner for Rs. 8,000 ($167) since age nine or ten, Kanchipuram, March 21, 2002.

I didn’t like working because my hands would get infected. I got holes in my hands because I put them in the hot water and then they got infected. I couldn’t eat. I had to eat with a spoon.

 —“Anesha K.,” eleven-year-old girl whose shins, ankles, and feet were covered with burn scars from boiling water, Karnataka, March 29, 2002.

The machinery was bad—it can cut your fingers. If you cut your finger, even then, you wouldn’t get sent home. They would put coffee powder on it and you would keep working. There wasn’t any medicine.

 —“P. Kattaraman,” thirteen- or fourteen-year-old boy who showed the bends of his fingers where the threads would cut, Karnataka, March 27, 2002.

I had a Rs. 2,000 [U.S.$42] advance.... I earned Rs. 200 [$4.17] a week. I stayed in the twisting unit all week. I worked from 6:00 a.m. until 10:00 a.m. Then I had breakfast and worked until 1:30 p.m. when I had lunch. Then I worked until 9:00 p.m. I would go to my house on Sunday and come back early Monday morning. I slept in a small room at the twisting unit. My sister had to cook for both of us. In the morning we had rice and in the afternoon, millet. If I got sick, my sister had to borrow ten or twenty rupees from the owner to go to the doctor, and then I would go back and sleep in the room. I was not allowed to go outside. At 9:00 p.m. we would just have dinner and go to sleep. There were two other children there about the same age.

 —“S. R. Kollur,” twelve-year-old boy, Karnataka, March 27, 2002

At work the supervisor used to beat me with a belt. He tied me up and beat me with a belt on my back. He did this two or three times.... He tied a chain that was attached to the wall to my leg.... [The owner beat me] if I didn’t do my work properly.

 —Nine-year-old boy, “P. Ningamadiah,” Karnataka, March 27, 2002

Always [the weavers and owners] are beating me—I don’t like to work. They always scold and shout. They beat me on the back and head. They are always knocking their fists on my head or hitting me with a comb [wood piece in the loom].... We don’t play at all.

 —“Nallanayaki P.,” thirteen-year-old girl, working in a silk weaving factory in Kanchipuram, March 21, 2002

If we don’t do the work, they will beat us. They curse us and beat us.

 —fourteen-year-old boy bonded as a weaver’s assistant, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, March 13, 2002