India campaigns against bonded labour

Last Updated: Thu, Nov 01, 2012 10:16 hrs

New Delhi, Nov 1 (IBNS) A national level advocacy campaign "Bandhua 1947" has been launched to fight against the bonded labour system prevalent across the country.

The Campaign aims at mobilizing people to advocate with their governments to protect millions currently vulnerable to bonded labour system by calling for significantly increased enforcement of the Bonded Labour System Abolition Act, 1976 and amendments with increased deterrence and welfare of victims.

Around 86.6 % of bonded labourers come from Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe community, which make up 24.4 % of the Indian population (Ministry of Labour and Employment Annual Report, 2008-09 and India Census Data, 2001).

Throwing light on the campaign objectives Saju Mathew, Director of Operations - IJM South Asia, said, "Even after 65 years of Independence, hundreds and thousands of our fellow countrymen are still living a life worse than an animal as a bonded labour. For them, a day's two square meal is still a distant dream.

"Bringing the issue to the forefront of public consciousness, and spreading awareness about the plight of bonded labour are essential steps towards the successful realisation of the campaign objectives."

Speaking on the occasion, Harsh Mander, Director, Centre for Equity Studies and former NAC member, stated that it is illegal to make an advance in return for people giving up their basic human rights to move freely; to seek employment elsewhere; to earn a minimum wage; and to price their goods or services.

These are basic human rights which cannot be given up in exchange for a cash advance, he said.

"The illumination of freedom and democracy, the robust safeguards of the Constitution, strict prohibitions of the law, an activist judiciary and committed human rights movement, international covenants, and the transformations of capitalist economic growth, all have been powerless to end bonded work, the hidden slavery of millions of such indigent workers in the Indian Republic," he added.

"While the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 of India abolishes and illegalizes bonded labour, and holds such employers guilty allowing progress to be made nationally, there still remain pockets in different states where this practice continues. New forms of bonded labour are seen in today's market driven economy especially within the feudal, caste and identity based fabric of India," said Sandeep Chachra, Executive Director, Action Aid India.

Jaisingh an activist from Punjab who has been campaigning against this social evil for more than three decades now highlighted the need for a national advocacy campaign to tackle this issue. He said, over 5 lakh bonded labour exist in Punjab alone.

Most of them are migrant population from Bihar and Jharkhand and are engaged in the agricultural farms or brick kilns.

Gurmail Singh, a former bonded labourer shared his experience of living in bondage for five years. He described the round the clock work at an agricultural farm of a landlord in Punjab against a loan of Rs 5000.

Some of the Campaign recommendations include: (i) Active Vigilance committee in every district (ii) Random inspection of industries (iii) Training of law enforcing State level Govt officers (iv) Welfare schemes for the rescued bonded labourers (v) Awareness Campaign at the state level and (vi) Toll free helpline Number.

Named 'Bandhua 1947', the campaign is a joint initiative by NGOs Action Aid India, Adivasi Solidarity Council (ASC), International Justice Mission (IJM), JEEVIKA and Justice Ventures International (JVI).

The five NGOs, active on the issue for a long time, have come together to enhance the level of awareness amongst the general public on issues related to bonded labour and to make the abolition of the practice a priority for governments.

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