Harda, Madhya Pradesh: Santram was nine when he was 'mortgaged' by his father to a local merchant for just Rs. 5,000, and six quintals (600 kg) of wheat.
Now 14, Santram is still working 12 hours a day so that his family gets 100 kg wheat a year. His village is one of the many in Madhya Pradesh's Harda district, where poor families pawn their children for a little money and food.
His father Bhagirath, 55, broke down as he remembered the day he gave away his son as a bonded labourer to money lender Kanhaiya Lal Bhandari. Bhagirath has no known source of income and has not been able to repay the loan yet.
"Whenever I ask my employer when I will be released, he adds interest and says that I still have a lot of loaned amount to repay. I know he will not let me go. l have to work till I am old, till my body gives up," Santram told NDTV.
His employer, Kanhaiya Lal Bhandari, was startled to see the NDTV team at his doorstep. "Santram took a loan of Rs. 5,000 from me and worked for just one year. In fact, he just quit yesterday. Come with me, he and his father will tell you this. He never was a bonded labour," he claimed.
Harda has a significant presence of the Korku and Gond tribes, who are known to mortgage their children as bonded labourers.
NGOs active in the area claim they have rescued 46 child labourers in nine years. There are over 4,000 such child workers in the district, they allege, but the local administration has denied it.
"We did not do a survey but an NGO did, after that we investigated. It was true some labourers were underpaid, but we could not find any bonded labour in the entire district" Rajneesh Shrivastava, a senior district official, told NDTV.