I read the shocking plight of Jawahar Manjhi, a farm labourer in Bihar, working for 27 years to reply a loan of about 40 kg of rice for a family wedding. Those 40kgs turned out to be slave food. They agreed that he would work for a day for each kilo. Even for a slave, food is still a necessity. Today, 27 years later, he has needed to borrow more rice, and is still working to repay his loan. The police are currently investigating this story, but if it turns out to be true, it will be another highlight on the huge economic and living conditions gap in the different social classes in India.
Bonded labour was banned in India in 1976 – some 30 years ago, but there have been few prosecutions of violators over the years. Anti Slavery International says that such exploitation is commonplace in India. And it is true isn’t it? Even Child Labour was taken strong action against last year, but how many people were actually caught? How many children were rescued? I have no clue. If anyone knows, I would welcome this information.
All I can see is that there are plenty of children still working on the streets – washing dishes on food stalls, selling newspapers, shining shoes, …….. So what has the law really done? It is not like isolated cases that the police miss. It was a huge thing for a couple of days, and then life was back to normal.
One incident I remember is the story of Palabakam in Tamil Nadu, a village of bonded slaves mostly belonging to the Irula tribe rescued from the rice mills in the year 2004 (I think). The government supported them after activists brought the matter right into their faces and made any other action an embarrassment. Otherwise, they had been happy to ignore the Irula plight and deny that there was any problem.
A more recent shocking incident is the cutting off of the hands of two labourers when they refused to work in brick kilns in Chattisgarh after being contracted to work in Andhra Pradesh.
Somewhere down the line, I think it comes down to all of us as citizens to speak up on the things we see happening as they shouldn’t around us. If we can file reports of every child labourer on the streets that we see, there will be a time when the police will be answerable for the sheer number of reports piled up and their progress against them. This is something we should be making an effort about.