The phenomenon of bonded labour


The phenomenon of bonded labour is a form of forced labour in which the debtor pledges his body or the body of a member of his family for a loan and he renders services to the loan provider till the loan is repaid. Bonded labour is characterized by a long-term relationship between employer and employee which is usually solidified through a loan. The loan amount is manipulated in such manner that it is very difficult for the debtor to repay the same. The end result is the continued exploitation of the loan taker and his succeeding generations. Some expresses ignorance about this phenomenon in India while others simply deny the very existence of this evil practice. The end result is a continued exploitation of these bonded labourers.

This system is embedded intricately in India's socio-economic culture—a culture that is a product of class relations, a colonial history, and persistent poverty among many citizens.Also known as debt bondage, bonded labor is a specific form of forced labor in which compulsion into servitude is derived from debt. Not all bonded labour is forced, but most forced labor practices, whether they involve children or adults, are of a bonded nature. Bonded labor is most prevalent in rural areas where the agricultural industry relies on contracted, often migrant labourers. However, urban areas also provide fertile ground for long-term bondage. Characterized by a creditor-debtor relationship that a laborer often passes on to his family members, bonded labor is typically of an indefinite duration and involves illegal contractual stipulations. Contracts deny an individual the basic right to choose his or her employer, or to negotiate the terms of his or her contract. Bonded labor contracts are not purely economic; in India, they are reinforced by custom or coercion in many sectors such as the agricultural, silk, mining, match production, and brick kiln industries, among others.

The system of bonded labour has been prevalent in various parts of the country since long prior to the attainment of political freedom and it constitutes an ugly and shameful feature of our national life. This system based on exploitation by a few socially and economically powerful persons trading on the misery and suffering of large numbers of men and holding them in bondage is a relic of a feudal hierarchical society which hypocritically proclaims the divinity of men but treats large masses of people belonging to the lower rungs of the social ladder or economically impoverished segments of society as dirt and chattel.

This system under which one person can be bonded to provide labour to another for years and years until an alleged debt is supposed to be wiped out which never seems to happen during the life time of the bonded labourer, is totally incompatible with the new egalitarian socio-economic order which we have promised to build and it is not only an affront to basic human dignity but also constitutes gross and revolting violation of constitutional values. The appalling conditions, in which bonded labourers live, not as humans but as serfs, recall to the mind the following lines from "Man with the Hoe" which almost seem to have been written with reference to this neglected and forlorn species of Indian humanity:

“Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans upon his hoe and gazes on the ground; The emptiness of ages on his face, And on his back the burden of the world.”