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Updated: October 19, 2012 01:40 IST

No hope of a life of dignity for these bonded labourers

Bindu Shajan Perappadan
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Jasbir with her son Gurpree . Photo: Bindu Shajan Perappadan
Jasbir with her son Gurpree . Photo: Bindu Shajan Perappadan

It is an illegal but accepted practice here to employ agricultural labourers and their family against a loan

The blaring gurdwara loudspeakers at Punjab’s Gandav village confirmed the worst fears of Jasbir Kaur. They were announcing that the recently-widowed young woman would lose the one-room shed she calls home if she was unable to pay back the Rs. 80,000 her husband had borrowed from the village landowner. With the home would go the hope for a life of dignity for her nine-year-old son Gurpreet.

Jasbir’s husband, Avtar Singh, had “sold” himself and his wife as bonded labourers against a loan of Rs. 45,000 four years ago, to the village landlord. He died this August leaving behind the unpaid debt.

“The fact that they [Jasbir Kaur and her husband] had worked for virtually no money and stale food at the landlord’s farms day and night did not help; the debt only accumulated interest,” says social activist Jai Singh who has been working in the area for the rescue and rehabilitation of bonded labourers in Punjab for several decades now.

Sitting alongside Mr. Jai Singh, her son huddled against her, Ms. Kaur tells her story.

“Avtar Singh was often beaten up so brutally at work that he wouldn’t be able to stand up the next day. Then one day the landlord came and told me that my husband had committed suicide while at work. I got so frightened that they would now come after my son — as is a common practice in Punjab to replace an injured, dead worker with another male member from his family — that I decided to run away from the farm with my son. But last week my landlord found me and asked me to return his money with interest.”

Ms. Kaur says that she has now been ex-communicated from the village until she pays the landlord who has also “threatened to take away her utensils and broken cot — the only assets we owns”.

Mr. Jasbir Singh says Ms. Kaur is in fact lucky that her son hasn’t already been taken away. “It is an illegal but accepted practice in Punjab to employ labourers against a loan. These bonded labourers are paid almost no, or very little, salary and kept poor enough to be never able to pay back the landowner,” says Mr. Singh. “Despite laws and strict punishment, bonded labour continues to be widely followed across Punjab’s agricultural sector.”

He estimates that the State currently has five lakh bonded workers — men, women and children — struggling in abject poverty with no access to basic health care, education or social security.

In India, Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh continues to have the largest population of bonded labour according to report released by the National Human Rights Commission last year.

Says Manoj Verghese of International Justice Mission which along with Adivasi Solidarity Council and others will be soon launching a national advocacy campaign against bonded labour: “Lack of awareness and education among the bonded labours ensures that the schemes aimed specifically at their rescue and rehabilitation is not yielding results. Most still prefer to stay on in the farmlands with the assurance of at least one meal a day. Sadly even death isn’t able to rescue the families out of the vicious cycle with their children often being pushed into this vicious cycle to repay their father’s debt.”

It is very Cruel & Brutal against humanities, There is no laws against Blocking this types slavery?...There is No Politician shouting against this?............and there no Govt. for protest the bonded laborers?...........Nobody can Because our laws written only for reading not to practical because still our nation is ruled by fascist & capitalist leaders then how can get relief from slavery they wants to exist the same situation they did not do anything against this…………..

from:  Kunjahammed.M.A
Posted on: Oct 20, 2012 at 15:14 IST

What a shame, even after 65 years of independence, we still exploit poor people. Thank you guys for taking up her cause - the landlord should be hanged in public, sometimes these types of crime should be dealt without any mercy. Jai Hind.

from:  suresh nayak
Posted on: Oct 19, 2012 at 04:28 IST

Why, even in then Calcutta I have seen educated staff members take loan for the marriage of their sisters, or medical treatment of their parents were being ill treated because the loan amount is so much the employee found it difficult to repay even in case he would like to leave the job and forced to continue suffering humiliation. The proprietor would say"you can go if you refund the loan immediately" This also comes under bonded labour.

from:  Mani Iyer
Posted on: Oct 19, 2012 at 02:47 IST

How can this be happening in India? What are the local authorities doing? Issues like these need to be taken up and highlighted. We cannot risk these practices to continue like this. How can India ever achieve better standard of living for its poor when whole families together with kids are taken over by landlords. I am surprised that the term landlord is still even used in India. This is precisely the exact process which resulted in the NAXAL movement in our country, which is not that prevalent in North East part of our country. But I can see that there is a fertile ground for such eruption there as well with the failure of our elected representatives and judicial system in taking these issues on to solve them.

from:  satish
Posted on: Oct 19, 2012 at 02:32 IST

This is utterly shameful and disgusting

from:  Sabina
Posted on: Oct 19, 2012 at 01:40 IST

And the great politicians are busy breaking records of crores-scam! And
PM Manmohan Singh says, "money does not grow on trees".

from:  Amardip Kumar Singh
Posted on: Oct 19, 2012 at 00:35 IST
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