Bonded labor still existing in high-growth Construction Industry and many other Industries in India and South-Asia


Siddharth Kara, an anti Human Trafficking expert has shared some of his research findings while doing primary research for his book “Bonded Labor: Tackling the System of Slavery in South Asia,” The book aims at assessing the position of bonded laborers in South-Asia. Siddharth had also written about the problem of debt-bondage, human trafficking and child labor in numerous construction projects to prepare Delhi for hosting Commonwealth Games 2010. To be able to complete contractors have brought in these laborers so that the gargantuan scale of construction could be completed at least possible cost. However, use of such kind of labor isn’t just limited to accomplish infrastructure requirements of international sporting events like this but is practiced in majority of construction projects running in South-Asia. These findings were also published on the “CNN Freedom Project” series blog.

The work conditions under which labor worked at construction projects for Commonwealth Games 2010 to be held in Delhi had similar conditions that were rampant during the Asian Games hosted by Delhi thirty years ago, had shocked Siddharth Kara.

The Asian Games provided grounds for taking first case on bonded labor to Supreme Court of India by the name, People’s Union for Democratic Rights vs. Union of India and Others in 1982. Though the practice was denounced by the court strongly back then, yet little change took place for the betterment of bonded laborers since then.

These kind of labor practices are not just rampant in the construction sector but in other industries as well. Though, I happen to study management during my student years, we had the opportunity to carefully study about the correlation. Job satisfaction, Job performance and work conditions are the three fundamental concepts that we will use to understand the concept better.

While Job satisfaction and work conditions come to be closely associated, work conditions are one of the many factors that help decide the level of Job satisfaction that an employee may experience. This satisfaction may further impact the performance of these employees on the job but there is more to understand than just this premise. In a number of research studies conducted in the 1980’s it is found out that this correlation is moderately strong for the employees in generalized work cultures but in areas where the Job profile is complicated, lesser the index of job satisfaction for an employee, higher is his chances of not achieving higher performance levels on the job.

Returning back to the actual wrongdoing with these laborers on the job, what happens after a construction project is secured by a company is that they further sub-contract the task of hiring labor for these projects to “Jamadars”. These “Jamadars” spread the word about vacancy in the villages claiming that adequate working opportunities are available for the entire family at these construction sites. Once these laborers turn up at the construction site, they are exploited in more ways than one.

The “Jamadars” which hired the labor usually ends up taking money out of the funds that is provided to him for disbursal to laborers for food, clothing, shelter and medicine. The “Jamadar” then returns a part of this money back to the construction company that provided it in the first place and hence little or no money reaches the hands of laborers for which it was earmarked initially.

The lacunae present in the legal system of India happen to be that the concept of vicarious liability does not include the relationship between construction companies and these sub-contractors. As a result, the connivance between these companies and their sub-contractors is left unregulated leading to the encouragement of this practice in South Asia.

One laborer Rashmi, told Siddharth Kara, “We are treated like cockroaches,” and “It is not just the jamadars—the government has betrayed the people. We are like dogs in the street scrounging for food and shelter. They promise us wages, but we have been here five months with no wages and barely enough food to eat. I feel no human dignity.”

The subsidiary industries like bricks and stones are equally distraught like the construction sector. Countless number of unemployed people are recruited into this hard work demanding industry.

In one of the most difficult of conditions of laborers working In granite stone quarries of Faridabad, Siddharth Kara documented their plight. Though this category of bonded labor became the subject of second bonded labor related case in Supreme Court of India in 1983, thirty years on the ground realities have not changed much. The case can be referred by the title: Bandhua Mukti Morcha vs. Union of India and Others, 1983.

Peasants in these quarries work in difficult conditions for as long as 14 hours or more in a day. In the brick kilns, their body had to brave the untenable 1000 degrees Celsius and more of heat.

Peasants are forced to migrate to the construction sector as the loans they took for farming reach the levels where they can no longer settle debt. The case of one such bonded laborer “Gurahu” was cited by Siddharth Kara, where when he tried to run away from the kiln, he was traced by the kiln owner and tortured through electric shocks. The daughter of this peasant was also sold to human traffickers for teaching him a lesson.

Gurahu said, “I could not believe God had done this,” and “I wanted to take my life. You cannot imagine how much pain I felt. I never saw my daughter again.”

Instances of exploitation and inhumane working conditions like these can be heard in plenty in South Asia and continues to be untamable beast. Siddhartha Kara is working on a further detailed article to suggest ways in which this problem could be sorted.

Source: CNN Freedom Project/ Siddharth Kara

Photos: A Conspiracy of Hope, Trafficking Project, Rise Up India

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