Modern-day slavery comes in various forms — bonded labour, underpaid labour, unstructured debt, remoteness of habitat and opportunities. 

Thennarassu Sundram, an engineering graduate, realised a few years ago that his calling was beyond his nine-to-five job in an air-conditioned cubicle. A member of the primitive Irula indigenous community of the Nilgiri Mountains, he had seen up close the indignity and oppression his people are subject to as plantation workers. He quit his job. 

Today, Thennarassu runs his own organisation, the Integrated Centre for Tribal Research, Resources and Rehabilitation (ICTRRR); it focuses on securing the rights of the tribal people by empowering them with constitutional knowledge and livelihoods that break the chains of bonded labour.

When the lockdown was imposed, Thennarassu knew that the tribes, more so the hill-dwelling communities, will be among the worst hit. These areas lack basic amenities and have extremely poor connectivity.

ICTRRR, with the help of its donors, is taking care of more than 800 families in isolated settlements in Vellupuram, Vellore, Kanchipuram, Tiruvannamala, Chennai and Salem districts, with relief packages that include food and non-food essentials. It is also supporting over a hundred stranded migrant labourers in their area.

Now that the Tamil Nadu Tribal Welfare Board has announced Covid-19 monetary relief of ₹1,000 to each registered tribal member, Thennarassu and other like-minded individuals and organisations have reached out to the board; they ensure that the money is transferred directly to the beneficiaries’ accounts, bypassing any probable corruption. In the last one month, ICTRRR has ensured payments to 1,600 people.