Human Rights Watch India

5 L’s To Explain Why Bonded Labour In India Is Still A Reality

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Despite the steep progress and transformation, we have achieved today, there are some factors which take us back to the world where human rights were grossly violated. Despite various laws and organisation that voice to protect human rights, there are roughly 46 million slaves globally. The hard-hitting facts are yet to come. Out of this whopping number, India is the 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 to all this lie? Why are there so many slaves despite having the strongest anti-slavery law?

Here are 5 L’s to understand why India is lagging behind when it comes to protecting the human rights of these slaves:


Vulnerability and poverty are the 2 factors which drive the modern day slavery in India. Migrants from rural areas, impoverished farmers and labourer often fall into this vicious circle for the sole purpose of surviving the extreme poverty. Poverty, occasions like wedding or simply to meet the daily expenses, often forces them to take loans. When not repaid, they have no option but become a bonded labourer to feed their families.

Contractors and middlemen demand free labour from these vulnerable families in a bid to repay the loans taken. So, till the loan amount is not repaid, the workers continue to do labour for free. As mentioned earlier, it a vicious circle. This debt is passed from generation to generation, compelling the younger family member to work as a slave to repay the loan taken by his father or grandfather.

Lower Castes

Tribals, backward classes, women and children are often considered as the soft target for the 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.

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.

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.

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 the vanishing of bonded labour. However, this act is hardly implemented anywhere since this industry is a huge one and money gets the actual criminals out of the hold of legality. 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 into this business.

Further, in many states, domestic workers, who are also subject to forced labour and excess working hours, are excluded from labour laws. Thus, they do not enjoy any legal protection as the other workers.


The high economic return from the business of bonded labour pretty much explains why it is still a part of our society and why the sector has been growing steeply over the past few decades. As per estimates, this profit in this business has grown from $44 billion in 2005 to $150 billion.

For instance, sexual exploitation and prostitution is 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 labour? 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 labour 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 labour 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 labour, so that this issue can be better analysed 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.

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