The Global Slavery Index 2018 estimates that on any given day there were nearly 8 million people living in modern slavery in India. While the bonded labour system is formally abolished and criminalised, recent research indicated that bonded labour is still prevalent in India. A 2016 report found that in the state of Tamil Nadu, 351 of 743 spinning mills used bonded labour schemes, otherwise known as Sumangali schemes. Similarly in granite quarries, wage advances and loans with an interest ranging from 24% to 36% are used to bond workers. Situations of debt bondage are often aggravated by the need to raise emergency funds or take on loans for health crises.
Kunwar took out a loan from a landlord to start building his house, working as a bonded labourer until he was 22, with his final debt being paid off when he was 33.
I live in Wdamaluru but started my bonded labor in Budenalla. My caste is Madhugiri.1 I am 40 year sold and I am married with one son and two daughters. My first daughter is studying at 4th standard, my second daughter is in 2nd standard, and my son is in a pre-nursery class. I never got an education but the government had a program for illiterate people to learn to write so I know how to write my name.
I currently am farming and working as a daily laborer. My father was also a farmer. I own half an acre of land and took a lease for another acre from my previous landlord. The land belonged to my father and he passed it down to me. My grandfather and father were both bonded laborers but for different families. I worked for a different landlord because that family wasn’t taking bonded laborers at the time. I need to take a loan to start building my house. My grandfather actually died in the house of his landlord. Nowadays people are developing so bonded labor is going down. Both my father and me are done with bonded labor. My father stopped when I was born. However he eventually went back because he needed money for his health. Landlords were not giving him money to cure his health.2
I started bonded labor when I was 13 years old. I took 300 rupees for 1 year of work. After that I continued with the same landlord. Over time I got paid 13 rupees per day. There were times when my landlord would give me 1,000 rupees for longer periods of work. I worked as a bonded laborer until I was 22 because my family paid of my debt. They decided it was time for me to get married. They paid 2,000 rupees to get me free. I finished my last debt when I was 33 years old.
Narrative provided by
Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick, Telling Stories: What Competing Narratives about Slavery tell us about Emancipation (forthcoming)