Bonded labour is debt bondage and is a form of slavery that has been practiced for ages. It is known as the worst form of modern slavery and is a profitable business as most of the labourers are made to work for maximum time with minimal payment. It also includes forced work by an employer for a fixed time without being paid, often as a way of repaying debt. The 1976 Bonded Labour (Abolition) Act defines ‘bonded labour system’ as the system of forced labour under which a debtor enters into an agreement with the creditor that he would work There have historically been a large number of studies of bonded labour in the country, focusing particularly on the agricultural sector. But in more recent years, few academics or others have investigated the issue in a systematic way.. Migrant labourers appear particularly vulnerable to bonded labour exploitation today, through recruitment systems where any unaware worker is manipulated into the assumption of good pay and decent work. SAP-FL research shows that such deceptive arrangements are increasingly a feature of forced for nominal wages, in consideration of loan or any other economic consideration obtained by him orany of his family, or in for any of his succession or anything that he would consider as his social obligation. Many articles and legislative frameworks ban any such kind of employment.. Such protective laws did not come earlier than 1976. Large scale surveys and critical assessments done showed the truth of the bonded labourers in our country. In the survey, 61.5% of the bonded labourers were members of Scheduled Castes (SC) and 25.1% were members of Scheduled Tribes (ST). Among the employers, 89% were agriculturalists. Bonded labour is characterized by a relationship between employer and employee, through a loan, and is embedded intricately in India’s socio-economic culture—a culture that is a product of class relations, a colonial history, and persistent poverty. Not all bonded labour is forced, but most forced labour practices, whether they involve children or adults, are of a bonded nature. Tricking someone to work for an individual in return for a sum waived off is enslaving them. Bonded labour has been abolished in India since 1971. Bonded labour is not just restricted to a person, but his entire family and people connected to him or her. Hence making it void is imperative.
Article 21 of the Indian Constitution – This article protects a person’s right to life and liberty. Under this article exploiting someone for bonded labour is strictly prohibited as it is against the person’s liberty and also traps the person depriving them of a right to life.
Article 23 of the Indian Constitution – Trafficking in humans or any other form of forced labour is prohibited. Any person involved in bonded labour can be punished for the violation of this article.
Article 39 of the Constitution - It talks about the Directive Principles of State. Hence it is not enforceable. This article can direct the State to provide an adequate livelihood. It also directs the state to look after the citizens so that no economic necessity puts them in a situation of doing things that do not suit them.
Article 42 of the Constitution – The state has to make sure that the conditions of work are humane. Since it is a state directive principle it cannot be enforced.
Article 43 of the Constitution – This directive directs the State to secure decent standard of life by good working conditions.
Other than the constitutional provisions, there are also certain other laws,and a few legislations which deal with abolition of bonded labour.. Such as Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act 1970, Minimum Wages Act 1948 and the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 and even the Indian Penal Code 1860.
- The Indian Penal Code punishes any person with imprisonment or fine or both for illegally exploiting people and making them labourer unlawfully.
- The Minimum Wages Act1948 directs the payment of any extra amount to someone who works more than a normal day’s work.
- Similarly, the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976 prescribes imprisonment for a term upto 3 years as well as a fine up to Rs. 2000/-. Anyone who forces someone for bonded labour will be punished under this cognisable bailable offence.
Consequence of abolition after 1976
- All of the customs, traditions, contracts, agreements or any instruments by virtue of which a person (or any member of the family) is required to render bonded labour to someone will now be deemed as void.
- Any bonded debt that has to be paid by any labourer will be waived off.
- All the decrees for recovery of bonded labour debt which was not fully satisfied shall be deemed as fully satisfied after the commencement of the Act.
- Restoration of any property that was taken away from the labourer forcibly under bonded labouring
- No detention of bonded labourers in the civil prison
- Freed bonded labourers cannot have any of their homes evicted.
Various forms of slavery existed in the Indian society before its independence. It was first legislatively abolished by the British Empire in 1843, through Act No.V of 1843 also known as the Indian Slavery Act, 1843. However, this practice has not been completely eradicated from Indian society till date. One of the most common forms of slavery which is still prevalent in the Indian society is bonded Labour. Bonded labour exists both in rural and in urban areas. Prevention measures should be taken to stop this gruesome form of labour. Exploiting humans for work is not only against human nature but also against law. There have been several initiatives by the government, international conventions, and NGO bodies to prevent such atrocities. All kinds of possible factors like faulty system of adjustment of wages with the amount lent, prevalent ignorance, illiteracy, being socially backward, lack of debtor’s organisation etc. can lead to bonded labour. Such activities should be looked out at.