Stories of Bonded Labourers
Mathura and Dolamani Bagh
When I was 18 and my wife was 16 I took out a loan of 1500 rupees from a rich landlord in our village so that we could get married. To repay the loan we both had to do agricultural work on his farm for seven years. We started straight away and worked from 4am – 8pm every day, cutting grass, turning soil and doing whatever the landlord wanted us to and our only payment was 8 – 10 sacks of grain per year.
After five years someone from Anti-Slavery’s partner in the country, Jan Jagriti Kendra (JJK -- People's Awareness Centre) came to our village to see if there was anyone there that was working in bonded labour.
We discussed our case with them, and they went and spoke to the landlord about us. He admitted to what he had been doing, and the volunteers then went to the local authorities. The landlord was very angry so stopped providing us with grain, feeding it to his cows instead.
We decided to go on strike for three days and we chanted “those who work will eat, those who steal will go and a new age will come”.
Until that moment, we had all accepted our situation because we thought that we had no choice. This was the first time that we, as bonded labourers, came together as a collective.
After the strike the landlords in the village surrounded three JJK volunteers and said that the volunteers could talk to us only if they were also present. The volunteers refused and the landlords went to the police saying that they were causing trouble. Luckily, the authorities knew that this wasn’t true and released them.
Since we were freed we have worked with Jan Jagriti Kendra – we want to unite people with JJK, because until they came to help we were alone, received no no help and we suffered a lot.
Bitu* and his entire family worked at a brick kiln in rural India. They lived and worked at the kiln and needing more money to survive, they continually borrowed more money from the owner, pushing them further and further into debt and holding them in bonded labour.
One day he tried to borrow some money from the owner, but the owner refused, then beat him and his brother, even throwing bricks at them as punishment.
Badly injured, they went to the police station but no report was filed. At the hospital, they had X-Rays taken but were not formally admitted.
After this, they approached Anti-Slavery’s partner, Volunteers for Social Justice (VSJ) who helped them file a petition to sue the owner.
To avoid the courts, the owner eventually agreed to return Bitu’s property and to pay them fairly for their work. They also successfully helped two other families break from the owner and won them compensation.
Bitu and his brother were eventually admitted to hospital and VSJ provided food for one month and also provided funds for their treatment.
Now he is working for another brick kiln owner and is no longer in bonded labour.
*Name has been changed to protect identity.
Shyam Kumari Chaudhary
Shyam Kumari Chaudhary, who is from the Tharu ethnic minority in Nepal, worked as a domestic worker from the young age of 8. When she was 15 she left and, in association with Anti-Slavery’s partner Backward Society Education (BASE)
, attended the beautician training course.
She learnt the basic skills a beautician needs and opened her own beauty parlour and shop that sells cosmetics. The beauty parlor is located in an ex-Kamaiya settlement and she has four local people working for her in the shop. She has earned enough money to build a house for her family.
Shyam opened the shop six months before starting the training, after receiving a loan from BASE’s women’s group, which she has now paid back.
She has a steady income now and when she does hair and make up for weddings, which can earn her more than 500 rupees (just over £5) per bride.
She works every day during festivals, and there is usually a queue outside her shop.
Shyam has already trained five other young women in her community and plans to expand the business.
Even now, young girls approach her and request her to train them.
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Bonded labour in India's brick kilns.
© Pete Pattisson
community is most affected by bonded labour
Many bonded labourers are forced to till the
land for land owners
©ash2276 / www.flickr.com
Bonded labour is probably the least known but widest used form of slavery today©Pete Pattisson / www.petepattisson.com
Man laying down bricks to dry in the sun ©Bishnu Sarangi / pixabay.com/en/users/sarangib
Workers at a brick kiln ©Bishnu Sarangi / pixabay.com/en/users/sarangib
Whole families are in bonded labour. Kailash Bhika, 28, with his wife, Rambeti, 24, daughter Ratma, 4 and son Kalv (18 months)
Balbinerkaur, along with her husband and two children have been trying to pay off her husband took over twenty years ago. ©Anti-Slavery International