the-south-asian.com NOVEMBER 2002
NOVEMBER 2002 Contents
- a review
"[Bonded labourers] are
non-beings, exiles of civilization, living a life
worse than that of animals, for the animals are at least free to
roam about as they like; This system, under which one person can be
bonded to provide labour for another for years and years until an alleged
debt is supposed to be wiped out, which never seems to happen
during the lifetime of the bonded labourer, is totally incompatible
with the new egalitarian socio-economic order which we have
promised to build";
Bonded Labour is the existing form of slavery. Unconstitutional, yet present in most of the south Asian countries, bonded labour is not an issue that political parties have on their agenda, nor is it a mainstream concern. Yet, 20 million of the humanity is trapped and victimised in a system that has defied and continues to defy and deny human rights to men, women and children.
Prevalent in India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh, this form of slavery has continued to exist for decades or even perhaps centuries in these areas. It is an exploitative system whereby generations of workers labour relentlessly to repay an undocumented debt of a parent or a grandparent or even a great-grandparent. Most of the bonded labourers are found in the agricultural sector and the construction industry, where they often spend a lifetime crushing stones or making bricks in exchange for two sparse meals and an undignified shelter for living. It is a vicious and a ruthless cycle that leaves the vulnerable section of our societies with little choice and no support.
Though bonded labour is unconstitutional in all the countries mentioned above, yet the system prevails. Local politics has kept the system of bonded labour alive yet invisible, through a corrupt alliance between the local law enforcement agencies and the feudals, landlords, and other business owners. Often the landlord is also the locally elected politician. It is only in recent years that a group of dedicated individuals took it upon themselves to challenge the existing feudal order and assist the freeing of many individuals and families from bonded labour. Vidyullata and Vivek Pandit in Maharashtra (India), and more recently Swami Agnivesh of Delhi (India) and his Bandhua Mukti Morcha (Bonded Labour Liberation Front) have spearheaded protests against bonded labour. Their call to human rights was heard across the borders in Pakistan and Nepal, where similar societies were set up to help resolve the plight of bonded labour. The success in securing the fundamental right of the bonded labours has been slow, and painful but the success stories that follow the rehabilitation of these individuals are real life chronicles of resilience and a positive spirit despite a shamelessly exploited past. The silence of the society has tacitly legitimised this human abuse. There is a need for more pressure groups, national and international, to fight the system of bonded labour and a greater need to productively rehabilitate the freed individuals and families in the society they rightfully belong to.
Facts associated with bonded labour:
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