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.
Yogendra tells of his experience as a bonded labourer in Uttar Pradesh. He was approached by a broker offering him 50,000 rupees and a hectare of land if he worked a year. After signing a blank piece of paper, Yogendra received just 37,000 rupees and was forced to work under threats and verbal abuse. Yogendra tells of having to work off money borrowed for his sister’s wedding and his children’s school fees.
I was very scared of my landlord. Before I was released I lived a different life. I didn’t know what freedom was and didn’t know what would happen to me when I worked.1 I’d feel scared when it was time to eat and I went outside. Before my landlord came to this village he lived in Dubai for a long time. The landlord’s father stayed here before, he was a good person.
I was making 200 rupees a day and worked four days out of the week. I was able to get out of bonded labor from a broker who came to visit me. He asked if I liked the work I was doing. He then told me that another landlord could pay me 50,000 rupees and would give me a hectare of land if I worked for a year. I said yes but was only paid 37,000 rupees. I signed a blank paper to give the landlord so that he would pay me the full amount.2 When I tried to go to the landlord to get the money he said he would give it some other time. It troubled me because I wasn’t getting it.
I was working in the fields one day when the landlord threatened me and said he had gave me all of the money with the blank paper I signed. He’s threatening me now saying that I owe him money. He’s asking me for 50,000 when I didn’t even get that in the first place. He demanded that I give him money because he was lending money from somebody else. I didn’t have the money because I was taking care of my children. At the time I was living in a house my landlord owned. He said if I didn’t give him the money in three days time that he’d go to the courts and take his house back.
Now my landlord can’t get anyone to do work for him. He really has a bad name and no one wants to go to him. He has cheated a lot of people and now he can’t afford to find others to do work. People told him that he should treat his workers better. My landlord holds an old mentality his behavior and attitudes are not right. He would only give me money and nothing else, not even tea or coffee. He never offered me help when my wife got sick. I never even got to come inside of the house. He always told me what to do, yelled at me and never respected me. One day I was going to teach him a lesson for mistreating me.3He says that I should be grateful that I’m able to work on his farm.
Once the police was here and my landlord said in front of him that he’d pay me, but again he didn’t. The landlord says he doesn’t need me to work for him and that he doesn’t need other laborers so nine of them have already left. Things continued to go on and at the end of my labor the landlord would say that everything is okay and nothing was wrong.
I needed money so I borrowed from other people in my village. My father owned two hectares of land. I have two brothers and we all work. Before this I was working for another landlord, but he was a nice man. He never caused me trouble and we were able to settle. He gave clothing to my children and paid for their school fee. He was a really good person, I worked under him for two years. I was paying off a loan from my sister’s wedding. I’ve raised complaints about my landlord to the police. The police probably won’t help me though. They don’t represent the people they’re only supportive of politicians and those who give them money. I had a relative who won a general seat in the election. When my landlord was abusing me I told my relative in government. He told me that nothing is free and that he’d try to help me even if I didn’t have money. I just had to be quiet about it.
In my life I make decisions that are the best for my family. Even though I’m working under someone now I will try to make my life better. I will never go back to that landlord because I know the trouble he has caused me. Less and less people are in bonded labor because they want to live a free life, they don’t want to listen to a landlord. People want to work and pay for things on their own. I’m able to talk with others we are able to share our problems and what we want changed. I have to find strength on my own to keep going. When I think about my kids I know I can give them a better life and so I continue to work hard.
My landlord knows that he will face consequences. Ever since I left I think my landlord has realized the mistakes he made, I know that he feels sorry for what he did but he’s also very stubborn.
Narrative provided by
Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick, Telling Stories: What Competing Narratives about Slavery tell us about Emancipation (forthcoming)