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In May 2015, 107 trafficked bonded labourers including 11 minors, from West Bengal, Assam, Jharkhand, and Nepal were rescued from this Agarbatti factory in Bangalore by the District Administration and the local police. The labourers were not allowed to step outside the factory ever, some of them for up to three years.

Bengalureans, did you know there are bonded labourers in your neighbourhood?

Our Independence, won 68 years ago today, guaranteed most of us one fundamental right: freedom. With freedom came opportunity for all and even enabled a boy, whose first job was helping his father at a tea stall, become the country’s prime minister.

Yet this fundamental right is denied to far too many workers in India who live and work as trafficked bonded labourers.

Today there are well over one crore bonded labourers in India, according to Siddharth Kara, a Harvard University scholar. Despite being abolished in 1976 through the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, bonded labour persists.

Trafficked bonded labourers have no opportunities to prosper and are often held in captivity by their employers over debts from cash advances or other obligations.

These labourers forfeit their freedom, earn little or no wages, lose their right to look for alternative employment, and are exploited and often abused by their employers.

Data released by the Union Labour Ministry in April 2015 showed that Karnataka had the second highest number of bonded labourers rescued from 1976 until March 2015. In Karnataka, trafficked bonded labourers are typically employed in labour intensive industries such as brick kilns, rock quarries, agriculture and various types of factories.

In 2015 alone, the Anti Human Trafficking Unit of the CID, the local police and the District Administration in collaboration with International Justice Mission, an NGO working to end crimes of human trafficking, rescued 415 trafficked bonded labourers and their dependent families in Bengaluru.

The victims were trafficked from different states including Odisha, West Bengal, Assam, Jharkhand and Arunachal Pradesh and were rescued from brick kilns and an agarbatti manufacturing unit. Middlemen bring victims of human trafficking to cities like Bengaluru. These labourers are deceived by initially being given some money and false promises of jobs and good wages. The middlemen then receive a payment for each labourer while the labourer himself is exploited by the factory owner.

In these recent cases most of the owners were arrested under IPC 370 (Human Trafficking) and the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act while some are still absconding.

Almost all victims of bonded labour are victims of human trafficking as section 370 of the IPC states: ‘Whoever for the purpose of exploitation, recruits, transports, harbours, transfers, or receives a person or persons by using threats, or using force or any other form of coercion, including the giving or receiving of payments or benefits, in order to achieve the consent of any person having control over the person recruited, transported, harboured, transferred or received, commits the offence of trafficking.’
The laws governing human trafficking are strong and the AHTU, formed in 2009, is a dedicated police unit formed to rescue victims of trafficking and bring perpetrators to justice.

The minimum sentence under IPC 370 for trafficking a single adult is seven years; the minimum sentence goes up to 10 years if there are multiple victims or minors. Today, the tools to end this crime are available; this Independence Day you can support a movement to stop trafficking and help victims of bonded labour trafficking taste freedom.

All you need to do is be vigilant and call 1098, if you suspect that somebody is a victim of human trafficking and bonded labour.

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Image Credit: International Justice Mission