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Musings
   Prasoon S Majumdar
Prasoon S Majumdar
Editor, Economic Affairs - The Sunday Indian
Dean Academics (All India), The Indian Institute of Planning and Management
[29/08/2010]

63 years and bonded labour...

Practice of bonded labours can still be traced across the nation

L ike every year, this year too, our honourable Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh during his Independence Day speech touched upon almost all contemporary issues — from Kashmir to internal security, from inflation to poverty to international relations — almost all spheres that is pertinent. The issues, however, were worth pondering. This not only brought a ray of hope amongst people, who are at the receiving end of myriad social and economical malaises, but also made the celebration of I-Day more meaningful. But, there are still sections of society who have failed to break free from the clutches of bondage.

It might sound quite like the feudal age, but there are places in India and outside where such inhuman practices are still going on. The extension of slave era is very evident in various parts of our country. As per the latest data available, government agencies have identified (and released) around 2,82,135 bonded labourers and rehabilitated another 2,60,714 bonded labourers. A similar or more numbers of bonded labourers are estimated to be still working as slaves in various parts of the country.

In India, agriculture sector experiences high incidence of bonded labourers, most of whom are drawn from the lower castes. Going by a report summated to the Supreme Court on bonded labour in Maharashtra, more than 6,00,000 bonded labourers (70 per cent belong to unprivileged castes) are working as bonded labourers in 150 sugarcane factories. Even in states like Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat, many scheduled tribes are employed as bonded labours on the pretext of non-payment of debts. Many a times, even children are found working on behalf of loans taken by their parents. Same trends can be traced in brick kilns, stone quarries, crushers, mines and cotton handlooms. Even construction, gem-cutting, rice mills, bidi factories, weaving units, salt pan units and numerous other manufacturing units indulge in bondage labour. In August this year, a large number of bonded labourers were found working in various brick kilns of Aligarh and Hathras district. As per the recent media reports, the Labour Department of Uttar Pradesh has rescued nearly 600 bonded labourers. Quite shockingly, it is not that this practice is just restricted within the geographical boundaries of the nation. Countries like Mauritania, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon — to name a few — import bonded labour from India under the veil of employment. There are tens of thousands of Indians and Southeast Asian employed as servants in Gulf countries. Many a times, these people who are imported (literally!), on the pretext of employment, find themselves as prisoner doing low-grade household works and also undergo all forms of possible exploitation. Almost all important documents (passports, visas etc) are destroyed or are kept under custody by employers.

So for millions of these Indians, who are being cheated into a lifetime of bondage, either under the pretext of employment or that of a loan, Independence Day is still a misnomer! And no one is responsible for robbing their independence other than the establishment itself. It is not that the local administration at various levels are not aware of the rampant exploitation of labourers, but then their own feudal mindset do not permit them to take any adequate action against the perpetrators! All in all – who said that the ‘days of the raj’ is over? It still flows in our veins, albeit, surreptitiously!




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