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.
Manoj speaks to the conditions bonded labourers must face in Uttar Pradesh, in particular the lack of access to water.
Laborers have to take things into their own hands if we want to see things changed. The landlords will not do anything about it. There are rules that are set by the government and other groups. These groups stop the landlords from expanding to other facilities. There is a national law that landlords are not able to use their laborers for missions. These kinds of laws support laborers and not the upper castes. My landlord initially followed the laws, but when he didn’t he would come and ask me why I had reported him. It was because when I was working I did not know the jobs I was doing. In spite of knowing the laws, my landlord continued to make me work.1 Other small groups are trying to stop this kind of stuff from being done in rural nearby towns and cities. We do not have a lot of water because sand has no water that can percolate into the earth. Yet people were trying to transport all of the water to the cities. This could become a great problem for us. People in the most rural areas are educated about this kind of stuff, we learn about the water situations through the newspapers and hearing about the local schemes.
Narrative provided by
Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick, Telling Stories: What Competing Narratives about Slavery tell us about Emancipation (forthcoming)