Local voices living behind the labour lines - India

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Why does bonded labour still exist in India?

By Ashok Jha

The Federal government introduced a law called Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act in 1976 but this law is not strictly enforced and has not been able to act as a deterrent. This system is still continuing due to the lack of implementation of this law.

Poverty is the another reason why bonded labour continues, poor people have to do something to arrange for their two square meals. They are ready to do anything if they get a chance to earn money and employers take advantage of this. Workers are lured by advances which they accept, as they need money badly, but being uneducated, they are not able to keep account of their advance. Many employers are shrewd, clever and dishonest, when it’s pay time, they deduct part of the money the labourers owe them and even charge interest on the money. Through this system a debt trap is created and workers are not allowed to leave the job unless all the money is paid, thus labourers are compelled to work on the conditions set by the employers.

These practices are going on in every part of the country, in brick kilns, farms, mines, carpet making, fire cracker factories and other industries; bonded laboures are still used and the law is broken with impunity.

There are a few possible solutions to end this practice, firstly the law has to be implemented properly so that it acts as a deterrent. The administration, both civil and legal, has to be more responsive so that any complaint about the bonded labour is dealt with heavy hand and they provide relief without any delay. Programmes like MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Act) are great initiatives and their effect is visible in reducing the desperation among the labourers. But large scale corruption has hapmered the effectiveness of this mega programme. The government must weed out corruption from this programme and ensure timely payment to the labourers and guarantee work as promised under the act.

Secondly it is important that all people are able to access a good education, lack of education which means people are not educated and that’s why they are not aware of their rights and support is available to them against certain forms of exploitation. There must be aggressive programme to educate people about their rights in active collaboration with civil society.

Poverty is the biggest reason that this system is still continuing, and an utter lack of social securities drives people to desperation. A proper social safety net may save labourers from falling pray to the dishonest employers.

Finally, the public at large must assume moral high ground and say no to all forms of bonded labour.

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