I Am Not For Sale

Bonded Labour - India 14 Million Population

Overhearing "Udaan" while working in the kitchen last night, I was disturbed to the core. For those who don't know which TV series I am mentioning here, it is "Udaan" broadcasted on Colors. This series is about Bondage Labour known as "Bandhua Mazdoor" in India.

The least heard kind of slavery: Bonded Labour

What is bonded labour?

Bonded labour, as the name suggests, is the labour or services offered to the creditor as the security in lieu of any debt incurred by the debtor. The duration and the services in bonded labour are mostly indefinite because the debtors are tricked by the lenders to be slaved for the rest of their lives charging them high interest rates till the debt is paid off and it even goes to their next generation. The lender generally makes the debtor sign a bond in which the debtor is not entitled to work for anyone else. If a bonded labour tries to flee himself, he is threatened by the moneylender who considers himself the owner of the slave. The moneylenders are mostly socially and economically powerful people who has the support of local governments due to their vote banks.

Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves. Abraham Lincoln

Slaves out of debt work in farms, factories, mines, construction sites, restaurants, hotels, retail stores, brick kilns, quarries, brothels and private homes. We are, unknowingly, supporting the modern slavery by buying products made by bonded labourers such as clothing, construction materials etc.

infographic on 2014 modern slavery
Data Source: Global Slavery Index 2014

It is also known as "Modern Slavery", "Contemporary Slavery", "Debt Bondage" and "Debt Slavery". In the world of facebook and whatsapp, we are still having 35.8 million bonded slaves worldwide, India alone having 14 million of them. Although debt bondage was abolished by India in 1976 yet it is still prevalent in the most parts of the country courtesy of weak enforcement of the law by all the governments sinc then.

Bonded labor is a relic of history that should have long ago been eliminated from South Asia, but greed, corruption, and government ineffectiveness allow this caustic mode of exploitation to persist well into modern times. In order to ensure basic human rights, guarantee untainted global supply chains, and protect international security, the forces that promote bonded labor must be tackled immediately. Siddharth Kara, author, activist & one of the world's foremost experts on modern day slavery and human trafficking

Bonded labourers are found mainly in Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Chattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttrakhand, and West Bengal.

Reasons for debt

Slavery has been existing since the poverty has existed in the world. Due to poverty, the poor has to lend money for the survival from the flourished ones. In India, people take most of the loans from the moneylenders (mahajans) for the dowry of their daughters and in return they become labourers to pay it off. Farmers, on the other hand, take loans and keep on paying it off their entire life which is the main reason for their suicides when they cannot pay it back even after being slaves to the moneylenders and working more than normal hours. Besides this, the prevalent discrimination between the different levels in our society fuels the poverty stricken to bend for loans from the rich.

Since caste system is prevalent in India, it is the main social reason for the bonded labour engulfing India. The Dalits are refrained from buying any property or getting powerful and are forced into labour by the powerful and higher castes. Besides Dalits, migrant workers, religious minorities and tribes are grinded in the axe of debt crisis.

Conditions of bonded labourers

Bonded labourers are not only tricked into the bond of slavery, but also are treated worse than animals by their owners. Internet is full of such stories where the bonded slaves have shared their stories of being ill treated by their owners. Given leftovers to eat and rags to wear, physically abused if the orders are not obeyed properly, bonded slaves despite working extra hours and hard enough to pay off their debts, are subjected to live the lives of destitutes without dignity which is against human rights. Sometimes the moneylenders physically abuse them too when the labourers try to break the shackles of tricked bond.
Child slavery is a crime against humanity. Humanity itself is at stake here. I will see the end of child labour in my lifetime. Kailash Satyarthi, 2014 Nobel Peace Prize Winner

One of the worst results of bonded labour is the child labour. Since bonded labour goes from generation to generation and subsequently, children in the family are also involved to work for the moneylenders. Child labour is the worst kind of labour, condemned in the whole world.

Eradication efforts

Many NGOs are working towards the eradication of bonded labour and slavery. Bandhua Mukti Morcha (BMM) or  Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF) founded in 1981 by Swami Agnivesh has taken immense steps towards eradicating this social and economic disgust from our country. Bandhua Mukti Morcha has been credited with the release of 1,24,000 bonded labourers so far from the slavery. They are also working on the education and rehabilitation of the children involved in the slavery.
Since most of the governments have failed to execute the laws strictly due to their vote banks in the forms of socially powerful people, Bandhua Mukti Morcha has, therefore, constituted a Citizens’ Commission on Bonded and Child Labour. Various eminent persons of political, social and judicial integrity are included as members in this Commission which consist former Judges of the Supreme Court of India, eminent artists, journalists, lawyers and social activists.

Our responsibility

Those who are shackled in bonded labour may not be able to read my post so I cannot ask them to follow certain ways of life to get rid of their slavery. The onus is, therefore, on us to convey the message to them. Everyone can help put an end to slavery: governments, businesses, investors, international organizations, faith communities, schools, consumers, and Us (You & I).
For every man who lives without freedom, rest of us must face the guilt.
- Lilian Hellman
Let us stop encouraging any kind of slavery happening around us be it our house helps. Let us stop the discrimination based on castes and let everyone live with dignity because every Indian citizen has the same constitutional right. Let us convince the central and state governments that the law introduced in 1976 to abolish slavery forever should be implemented strictly and should take every possible measure to spread the awareness towards it.

We, as citizens of this largest democracy of the world should accept that caste system is hindrance towards our social development and should not encourage debt labour if we see it around us.


  1. This thing should be eradicated from all over the world as its a kind of curse people born with! Thanks for ur information vishakha!

    1. It is, indeed, a curse. The newborn would be already bearing the brunt of debt and slavery what his forefathers have indebted.

      Thanks for your encouraging words!

  2. It's a pathetic thing which still exists in our modern world.... that's the height of our hypocrisy isn't it?
    This was a great read and thanks for bring up such an important issue Vishakha!

    Cheers, Archana - www.drishti.co

    1. Thanks Archana for stopping by.
      I couldn't resist writing about it. It is the least heard kind of slavery in modern world. I wish more people could know about this curse and take considerate steps to not let this happen around them.

  3. Well researched and well written.
    Thanks for making us aware of the issue.

    1. Thank you for the encouraging words. I hope that I continue to bring issues which are not really known to most of us.