On July 11, India woke up to an unbelievable picture in the Times of India – a picture of 80-year-old Kasi, begging at the feet of officials who came to rescue him and 41 others from bonded labour. Twitterati reacted in disdain, wondering whether bonded labour still existed. Others tweeted with the hashtag #SlaveryExists. As much as it shocks everybody, the truth is that bonded labour still exists –a modern form of slavery.
Picture Credits: Times of India/July 11, 2019
With unpaid wages, abuse, and no freedom, millions in our country are victims of this cruel system. Drought and lack of job opportunities in villages, push them to migrate to other places or cities for employment. They are fooled and trapped, because of a debt they might have taken to meet their needs. They are forced to work as bonded labourers. They are harassed by men and women who think they own them. They are not paid their wages and sometimes, given less food. They are made to work for endless hours, like in the case of Kasi. And you’ll find them across brick kilns, farms, construction sites and textile factories.
Unimaginable, isn’t it? Maybe, meet Lal Singh who worked for more than 16 hours a day cutting sugarcane with his bare hands, along with his family. He was cheated and brought to a farm in Karnataka but was given only a kilogram of wheat flour for each family. On a day that was cruel to him, he remembers a man shouting at him, “Make your back stiff, so I can beat you properly!” Proactive government officials and NGOs rescued them and today, Lal Singh lives a free and content life with his family in his village in Madhya Pradesh. They cultivate crops on the land they had earlier mortgaged.
What does this mean, you might think? There is hope for the countless victims of bonded labour. When governments and NGOs come together and rescue them, they can also ensure that the hope of freedom is a sustained one. They can together rehabilitate these victims and bring them back to mainstream society, as free citizens of this country. Yes, it is possible! But Kasi is still in fear. According to a report by the Indian Express, people close to the owner came and threatened Kasi and others. They have not been given release certificates – government documents that ‘cancel the “debt” to the employer and make those rescued beneficiaries to central and state schemes and give them the assistance of Rs 20,000 on the day of rescue.’ They must be protected from threats through the laws of this land.
Today, as we respond to #FreeKasi, let us also remember that this freedom must be sustained with rehabilitation and legal protection, and can lead to wonders for many who wait to be rescued.
By Sarah Jacob