- DISGRACE: INDIANS IN CHAINS
The Global Slavery Index 2013 has revealed that about 14 million people are trapped in some form of slavery in India. A look at some of the lives scarred by that experience
Young girls sold into slavery, their salaries paid to their handlers; boys promised jobs in factories and pushed into low-paying or no-paying menial tasks; families indebted and then forced into bonded manual labour: This is the picture of modern slavery in India.RAJ K RAJ/HT
Krishna*, for instance, left his home in a UP village for a factory job in the city and ended up an unpaid domestic help in Gurgaon. He is 17. Preeti*, 18, was hired as a maid and forced to work from dawn to midnight in Delhi and made to sleep outside the house.
Last month, when Australia-based human rights group Walk Free released its Global Slavery Index 2013, the random incidents emerged as tabulated data. And the facts thrown up are shameful for the world in general, and for India in particular.
About 30 million people are enslaved worldwide — half of them are in India.
States such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar emerge as major culprits, with high levels of hereditary forms of debt bondage in rural areas, and of human trafficking.
In terms of the prevalence of slavery (as a proportion of the population), India ranks fourth, behind Mauritania, Haiti and Pakistan, in that order.
Modern slavery is defined as the denial of freedom and the exploitation of a person for profit or for sex, usually through violence, coercion or deception.
‘Slaves’ could be entire generations of families working in marble quarries or brick kilns to pay off debts, young girls brought from the north-eastern states to serve in brothels in big cities, or boys put to work in sweat shops.
A common response to the findings is the question ‘How can people be treated like slaves in this age?’. Yet, in Delhi alone, three recent instances of the torture of domestic help have left many fumbling for answers.
According to the Walk Free report, “Poverty and India’s caste system are significant contributing factors to its modern slavery problem”.
Despite being banned by the Supreme Court in 2006, child labour continues to be widespread due to weak enforcement. India has 12.26 million working children, aged 5-14, according to the 2001 Census, with the majority of those children coming from Uttar Pradesh.
Child marriage and forced marriage are another grave form of exploitation, one that is prevalent in Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes’ (UNODC) 2013 India Assessment Report. “With skewed sex ratios, it is impossible to find a bride for each man and ‘importing a bride’ has become the only solution,” said the UNODC report. Punjab (893 females per 1,000 males) and Haryana (877 females per 1,000 males) have the lowest sex ratios in the country.
Ruchira Gupta, president of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, an NGO that fights sex trafficking, is not surprised by the findings. “South Asia is the epicentre of bonded labour and slavery. But the issue does not get attention because its victims are considered disposable,” she says. “Stricter laws are the need of the hour.”
* Some names have been changed to protect identities
Modern slavery includes debt bondage, forced marriage, exploitation of children and human trafficking 72.14% of the world’s 29.8 million modern-day slaves are in Asia 3 mn sex workers exist in India, according to the UNDP Many of India’s enslaved have not been moved from one place to another. They are enslaved in their own villages.
Source:::: Hindustan Times (Mumbai), 10 Nov 2013, p. 07, http://paper.hindustantimes.com/epaper/viewer.aspx