By Theresa Tan, Senior Social Affairs Correspondent
SINGAPORE – The man and his wife had been tricked into slavery and forced to work without pay for 17 years at a brick kiln in India’s Punjab state. After he escaped from his captors, he asked Mr Kailash Satyarthi to tell his story in a bid to save his daughter in 1981.
The 15-year-old girl was about to be sold into prostitution by the slave master who held the man’s family captive.
Mr Satyarthi, who was then in his mid-20s and married with a toddler, had just started a Hindi magazine to report on marginalised communities.
“I was so moved. This was modern-day slavery. I felt that writing about it was not enough,” said Mr Satyarthi, who was awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for his decades-long struggle to end child trafficking and child labour in his native India and globally.
“I told the man I was going to rescue his daughter, but he didn’t believe me. He said the mafia (running the brick kiln) would kill me.”
His wife, a former journalist, sold some of her jewellery to fund the rescue operations.
But an attempt by Mr Satyarthi and his friends to talk their way into the kiln to rescue the slaves failed after armed guards beat their group, forcing them to run for their lives. “At the end of the day, we did not manage to save anyone, but I never believe in giving up,” he told The Straits Times. Through a legal petition, he later appealed successfully to the courts to free 36 men, women and children who had been trapped in that kiln.