Bonded labour: India

From Indpaedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Hindi English French German Italian Portuguese Russian Spanish

This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.


Status/ prevalance



The Times of India

2011-15: bonded labour identified, released and rehabilitated, state-wise

Mar 21 2015

The bonded labour system still exists in India. In 2014-15, more than 800 bonded labourers were rescued and rehabilitated in Chhattisgarh. Although, data from the past four years shows a decreasing trend in such cases, it is bizarre to find a system, ostensibly abolished in 1975, still in practice in some parts of the country. The scheme for rehabilitation of bonded labour is under implementation since 1978 and as of March, 2014, about 3 lakh such cases were found. Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have witnessed the highest number of releases of such labourers


Bonded labour identified as on 30-09-2016, state-wise; The Times of India, December 2, 2016

See graphic, "Bonded labour identified as on 30-09-2016, state-wise.jpg|Bonded labour identified as on 30-09-2016, state-wise"


Maharashtra’s sugarcane belt/ 2024

Mohua Das, March 4, 2024: The Times of India

Around two months ago, on a December day, 12 adults and 13 children were ‘freed’ from a brick kiln owner’s clutches in Bhiwandi. We say ‘freed’ because these men and women — Katkari tribals from Jawhar, Dahanu, Boisar, and other parts of the Palghar district — were trapped by a brick kiln owner in a vicious cycle of debt — relentless unpaid labour to work off the ‘advance’ he had paid them. Following a tip-off and a surprise raid by Shramjeevi Sangathana, an NGO working on tribal welfare in Maharashtra, the situation came to light. The tribals were holed up in a cramped, thatched room barely 8x8 feet, surviving on a pot of cooked rice.

Police revealed that over the past eight years, the accused had refused to pay the victims their wages, made them slog from dawn to dusk, and starved them when they asked for pay or wanted to return. When the brick kiln had no work, they were compelled to toil in the fields. Any demands or protest resulted in physical violence with further restrictions. The freed labourers are now camped at a shelter in Usgaon.

Among them is Sunil Bhoir, 18, who recounts his experience of working in the brick kiln for three years. “A woman kept a close watch on us, even monitoring our trips to the toilet,” he says, adding that refusal to do something meant being hit by the very bricks they were tasked to make. Forty Katkaris from Khoni village in Dombivli narrated a similar story of bondage for almost two generations by two brothers Sanjay and Vijay Patil. The tribal families, who were already working as contract labourers for Patils — quite influential in the village for taking up projects for the gram panchayat, like building roads, toilets, crematoriums, and gutter work — were thrilled by the Patils’ offer to raze their huts and build brick and mortar homes for them.

Sunil Waghe recounts: “In return for this ‘gift’, we were expected to work for the Patils endlessly with no wages and a bit of food rations.” Things took a turn when one of the women reached out to a social worker after her husband got beaten up for failing to take the goats to graze. The Patil brothers were arrested in December, and the labourers granted a release certificate under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 that entitles labourers to compensation of Rs 1 lakh, including immediate relief of Rs 25,000.

However, getting compensation is challenging. “I have letters from district collectors requesting the state government for corpus as per central government’s bonded labour assistance scheme but to no avail,” rues Vivek Pandit, chairperson of the Maharashtra Tribal Development Review Committee and founder of Shramjeevi Sanghatana. “In the past two years, we have rescued 157 bonded labourers from sugarcane factories, brick kilns, and goat rearing setups.”

Despite the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, Madhuri Krishnaswamy, a prominent activist with Jagrit Dalit Adivasi Sangathan in Madhya Pradesh, says bonded labour is thriving in the sugarcane belt. She led the rescue of 300 tribal migrant labourers hailing from MP’s Barwani district in 2022 pushed into bonded labour at sugarcane mills in Maharashtra and Karnataka. “Maharashtra, especially its sugarcane belt, is a hub of migrant labour that attracts locals, tribals and those displaced from Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and other regions. The modus operandi involves thekedars (contractors) who come with a truck, lure them with a variety of false promises and take them. In the sugarcane belt, migrants whom we’ve rescued didn’t know their location, language, and had their mobile phones snatched,” says Krishnaswamy.

Pandit says there is an alarming trend of primitive tribes, particularly the Katkari community, falling victim to bonded labour practices. “Most of them are landless, illiterate, lack ration or identity cards, are wage labourers, and migrate in search of work. In cities like Mumbai, where construction is constant, there is a huge demand for bricks. Brick kilns rely heavily on manual labourers, as do Maharashtra’s proliferating sugarcane cutting industry. Because of utter poverty and illiteracy they are the cheapest workers available,” says Pandit. 
 Owners of brick kilns, sugarcane factories, or farms, called ‘seths,’ offer an advance payment ranging from Rs 20,000 to Rs 40,000 to tribals in exchange of six months of labour who often accept it eagerly. When it’s time for settlement, the seths present misleading calculations and add the promised weekly allowances for food to the loan amount.

“Tribals often end up owing more than they received, and are forced to return for another season to work off the debt,” explains Pandit. Sometimes, seths send men to forcibly bring back workers. Those who refuse get beaten up and if they go missing, another family member is picked up. “Sometimes, these seths make deals among themselves when a labourer starts working for another, adding to the debt, which becomes a way to keep them working for generations.”

Anyone who protests faces beatings, and women are sometimes sexually abused. Krishnaswamy says, “Among those we rescued from Belgaum in 2022, three young girls and three women were raped repeatedly in the sugarcane fields by the thekedar.” These stories are not restricted to Maharashtra. In the last two years, there have been many rescues of bonded labourers in Bihar as well as other states.

See also

Child Labour: India

Labour: India

Personal tools