Despite our steep progress and transformation, human rights violations are still very much a reality even today. Despite various laws and organizations that protect human rights, there are roughly 46 million slaves globally. Out of this whopping number, India is home to 18 million slaves, making it the country with the highest number of people living in some form of modern slavery. But, where does the root of all this lie? Why are there so many slaves despite having such a strong anti-slavery law?
Vulnerability and poverty are the 2 factors which drive modern-day slavery in India. Impoverished farmers and laborers and rural migrants often fall into this vicious circle for the sole purpose of surviving extreme poverty. Being able to finance their children’s weddings or simply to meet the daily expenses often forces them to take loans. Contractors and middlemen demand free labor from these vulnerable families as repayment of the loans taken. Until the loan amount is not repaid, the workers have to continue to work for free or they are threatened with death or the deaths of their loved ones. This debt is passed from generation to generation, compelling younger family members to work as slaves just like their father and grandfather.
Tribals, backward classes, women and children are often considered as the soft targets for shrewd middlemen. Once the targets are spotted they make attractive offers of employment and education which are hard to reject. Little to their knowledge, these false promises would only lead them to locked factories doors and brothels.
Lack of access to employment and the social exclusion in the society pushes them into this vicious circle. Despite reservations for the Dalits in the government offices, there are a very few percentage who actually get jobs. Many times they are denied employment on the basis of caste discrimination. As a result, the Dalits are easily exploited for the most physical straining and menial occupations like stone cutting, mining, manual scavenging, labour in factories and brick kilns.
For instance, a group in Odisha were promised jobs in Bengaluru with Rs. 7000 salary per month and education for their children. Of course, this bait which they happily took, landed them in a factory where they were forced to work as the bonded laborer. Something that is common in all these targets is that they were all desperately looking for a job to feed their families.
Law and Order
Despite having the best anti-slavery law, India is, unfortunately, the home to highest number of slaves. The Bonded Labour Abolition Act, 1976 is regarded as the strongest acts for combatting bonded labor. However, this act is hardly implemented anywhere since this industry involved so much money – money that can make the criminals above the law. Siddharth Kara, an activist on modern-day slavery says that despite having a comprehensive law on bonded law, it is not adequately enforced. However, one of the major key deficiencies in the law is that the fine or penalty for the abusers is very limited. Thus, even if they are convicted by the law, they can get away with it without much effort and money. This, in turn, promotes people to get involved in this business.
Further, in many states, domestic workers, who are also subject to forced labor and excess working hours, are excluded from labor laws. Thus, they do not enjoy any legal protection as the other workers.
The high economic return from the business of bonded labor pretty much explains why it’s still a part of our society and why the sector has been growing steeply over the past few decades. As per estimates, the business of human trafficking from $44 billion in 2005 to $150 billion in 2015, of which $51 billion was only related to bonded laborers.
For instance, sexual exploitation and prostitution are often considered to be a business with highest profits involved. As per an ILO report, annual profit involved in sexual exploitation is $21,800 per victim. Well, that’s a lot of money involved. And considering the current law which makes it pretty easy for the offender to get away with the crime, they are able to take that risk.
Last but not the least, the blame rests on our shoulders as much as anybody else’s. Slavery in India is not a new term but has been there for years even before Independence. But, why has 70 years of Independence not freed bonded labor? It’s because we, the so-called ‘law-abiding’ citizens, haven’t taken any action against this. We very well know it’s happening, in our homes, in our offices, construction sites, factories, on roads etc. Yet we choose to overlook these issues.
According to the National Human Rights Commission, the official and police themselves are not aware of the bonded labor acts and laws. Thus, they tend to takes their plight for granted and many times refuse to file their cases. As a result of this low conviction rate, there were only 92 cases of bonded labor registered, which is grossly low in a country which homes the most slaves in the world.
Further, researchers and academicians need to conduct more research on bonded labor, so that this issue can be better analyzed and practical solutions for the same can be thought of.
The finale of this situation is yet to come with greater horror if we continue staying back in our own little cocoon. This cycle will never end if nothing is done. Citizens and the government have to take a stand against this and free the people of their slavery and punish everyone who enslaves them. If Law and living citizens work together relentlessly, the future is gonna bright.