If you thought slavery has been relegated to the pages of history books, a tour of rural Madhya Pradesh may change your mind.
Thousands of tribals in the state’s Guna, Chhattarpur, Khandwa, Harda, Shivpuri and Sheopur districts have reportedly been serving village headmen and other influential people as bonded labourers for the better part of the last two decades.
HT came across several such cases from the Sehariya community while researching the issue.
Borrowed Rs 30,000 from village sarpanch for her husband’s treatment, now serving as a bonded labourer
Rupa Bai has been serving as a bonded labourer for the last seven years – ever since she borrowed Rs 30,000 from Bhamori village sarpanch Govardhan to treat her ailing husband, Vednath Sehariya. Even though Rupa gets nothing in return for her efforts, a penalty of Rs 100 is charged for each day she stays away from work. It’s the wages earned by her 13-year-old daughter – employed at a construction site – that keep the home fires burning.
Twenty days ago, Vednath died for want of proper medical treatment. Rupa, however, continues slaving away to pay the sarpanch his due.
Kamlesh has been working as a bonded labourer since he was a boy of 15
Kamlesh Sehariya of Tati village has been working as a bonded labourer since he was a boy of 15, when his father took a loan of Rs 15,000 from the wealthy Mokum Singh. “I have to work for free, and can quit only if I pay Mokum a sum of Rs 1.25 lakh. Even if I miss a day at work, he threatens to set his henchmen on me,” bemoans Kamlesh.
Fifty-year-old Prem Sehariya, also a resident of Tati, was forced into bonded labour after he borrowed Rs 20,000 from an influential landlord around seven years ago. The price of his freedom, at Rs 60,000, is lower but still unattainable.
Prem, however, is slightly better off than the others like him. He gets paid Rs 150 a month for his work.
Govt doesn’t recognise these people as bonded labourers, says activist
Social activist Nirmal Gorana says the government does not recognise these people as bonded labourers, and therefore, does not come to their rescue. “These people are victims of modern-day slavery, and should be protected under the Bonded Labour Act-1976 as per the Constitution,” he added.
A survey has found that at least 4,000 bonded labourers reside in each block of the districts where the social evil prevails, Gorana said.