This story introduces children (grades 2-6) to the concept of bonded labor, an illegal system that is still in use.
Introduction for the story: There is still slavery in the world, in different places and there are different kinds of slavery. In India, if a very poor man needs money, a rich person may “loan” it to him. But then the loaner sometimes makes the poor man work for him for years. The loaner finds ways to keep the debt from being paid. If the borrower has children, they too must work for the rich person. Sometimes even grandchildren work. They work for no money, get little food, are not allowed to leave work for school or play. Children born into that kind of slavery do not know what it means to be free. They are unhealthy because they are often hungry. They are forced to work too hard. Usually, no one in the family can read or write, so they don’t know about laws that would protect them. They do not know how to defend themselves. This kind of mistreatment of people is not legal in India but it still happens. Fortunately, there are groups of people who work to free these families. This story is about an enslaved family that becomes free.
Story: Kalimall should have been in third grade, but she had never seen a school.
She didn’t know what a book was. She didn’t know that other children her age could write and do math. She had never tasted cookies or other sweets. Her clothes were dirty and ragged.
Every morning, very early, she went with her brother and a cousin to the stone quarry. There she worked with them, chipping at huge stones with a hammer. If she didn’t keep working, the boss or his wife would hit her and not give her any food.
Her mother, father and grandfather did all the other work on the boss’ large lands and house. They were as afraid of the boss as Kalimall was. The family was always hungry for they were not given enough food. They were never paid for their work.
Late one evening, Kalimall curled up on the floor, exhausted. She slept for a short while but woke at the sound of voices. With sleepy eyes, she saw they had a visitor. The woman spoke softly but with hope. “Your boss is breaking the law by forcing you to stay here,” the woman said to Kalimall’s father as she tapped some papers on her lap. “Now that we have filled out these forms, I will take you to the magistrate tomorrow. We’ll begin the process of getting your freedom.”
“I can’t go!” her father exclaimed. “If I leave here, my family will suffer!”
“You will all go with me,” the woman assured him.
Kalimall wondered what all this meant, but she was too tired to stay awake.
Long before dawn, Mama awoke her. Kalimall was hungry and thirsty. She knew, though, that her mother must go to work before she could feed the family.
But this morning, her mother did not go to the boss’ house. “We’re leaving here,” Mama whispered. Kalimall wondered again what this talk about leaving meant.
She sat up and saw the woman who was visiting last night. “Hello, Kalimall!” the woman said quietly but cheerfully. “This is a day you will always remember! Get up now for we’re in a hurry!” Soon Kalimall was walking with her family and the woman. Everyone watched carefully for the boss or someone else who might stop them. But they saw no one until they reached the town.
Kalimall stared at the buildings and at all the other people in the streets. Bewildered, she followed her family into the building where the magistrate worked.
They all sat down in soft chairs in a waiting room. “I’ll go now to get you a court appearance so you will be free,” the woman said. Then she pointed to a plate of cookies as she left the room. “Help yourself!”
Kalimall looked at Grandfather. He had worked for the boss’ family all his life. Did he know about this thing the woman called ‘freedom’? But Grandfather was looking at the cookies. He winked at Kalimall and reached for a cookie. She took one too. Her mouth was surprised! She had never tasted anything like this. Grandfather licked his lips and laughed.
The woman came out. “Your case will be heard in a few days. For now, I’ll find you a place to stay and some food and clothing.” Kalimall didn’t understand that the judge at the court would decide if her family would be free, and if the boss would have to pay them for the years they had worked for him. She didn’t understand that her parents would need to find a way to make a living. They could not read or write. She didn’t realize that she would start school soon. She didn’t know that she did not have to be afraid of the boss anymore.
But she did understand that things were going to be better for her family when the woman brought her a yellow dress with a lace collar.
Mama buttoned that beautiful dress and combed Kalimall’s hair. Then she turned Kalimall around and looked at her.“You are beautiful and free!” Mama said, her eyes wet with tears.
Kalimall and Mama held hands and sang all the way to the courthouse.