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2018 (Narrative date)

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. 

Naik worked as a bonded labourer for 10 years in Uttar Pradesh after he inherited his father’s debt. He tells of how the bonded labour system has changed, the effect of government schemes and how labourers are now often invited in to their landlord’s houses and to eat and drink from the same plates and glasses.

In the past 10 years I haven’t received any benefit from the government. I don’t work anymore but before I was tilling and did general farm work. I have around 0.4 hectares of land. My farmer had four people working for him and so he distributed the land amongst us so each person got around a half hectare. I always worked on the farm but I would go to work at other places here and there. My son now works for daily wage and he was able to go to school. The biggest changes we’re seeing are that people are getting paid 200 rupees for their work.  

I started working for my landlord because my father received 500 rupees from him. My sister was married at that time but I was still single. After working as a bonded laborer I got married. Even after bonded labor the landlord came to my house and I worked as a daily wageworker. I would go to work during the day and come home in the evening. My landlord’s son died less than 10 years ago but it’s been a while since my landlord passed away.  

I’ve worked as a bonded laborer and daily wageworker. For around 10 years I finished my father’s bonded labor after he died. My father sent me for bonded laborer when we didn’t have food and so I had to work. I did bonded labor for two or three people. I’d work in different places and would get transferred around. Because of that I was able to get some livelihood. It was better to work as a bonded laborer, to be working under someone. When I transitioned to daily wages various people would ask me to come work for them.  

I liked working for my landlord because he treated me kindly. He would bring us coffee and would tell us to drink it and then continue working. In the past they would never do this. You don’t want my father’s history because in those days they used to only eat on leaves, they would never get plates. Now they are giving from the same glass. I never entered his house but nowadays landlords invite people into their house. We don’t enter because it’s bad luck. They are serving people in the same glass because they realized if they don’t and scold these people they will file cases and create legal problems. The elders in the upper caste are advising the younger generation to serve their laborers from the same glass and plates they eat on. They also say not to scold them or anything. Landlords think that if inequalities continue with untouchability then the labor class will create problems for the landlord.1 This is why they’re treating laborers in a softer manner.


 Government policies are changing because lower class people can approach the police station. Policies are being brought into force and that makes the landlords and upper class people afraid.  



Narrative provided by

Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick, Telling Stories: What Competing Narratives about Slavery tell us about Emancipation (forthcoming)