Action Briefing - Bonded Labour in India

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Subject: Action Briefing - Bonded Labour in India
From: Jen Escher (
Date: Sun Feb 06 2000 - 10:33:59 EST

>January 2000
>Dear Anti-Slavery Campaigner
>The first few months of Anti-Slavery's Bonded Labour Campaign has focused
>on the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights. Postcards addressed
>to High Commissioner Mary Robinson urge her to make the eradication of
>bonded labour a priority for her Office and to take action to strengthen
>the UN's capacity to deal with this human rights abuse, such as appointing
>a UN Special Rapporteur on Slavery. Since the launch of the campaign last
>October, we have had over 2,000 bonded labour postcards returned, including
>nearly 50 Members of the UK and European Parliaments.
>You will find below our first Action Briefing as part of our two-year
>campaign against bonded labour. We would greatly appreciate it if you
>could take up the action points.
>Please do let me know if you have any comments or queries. We can send the
>Action Briefings to you either via e-mail or post. If you'd rather receive
>this via post, simply let me know. Our many thanks for your continued
>interest and support.
>With best wishes
>Jen Escher
>Campaigns Officer
>A formatted version of this Action Briefing will be available on
>Anti-Slavery's website early February 2000. A formatted paper copy is also
>available from Anti-Slavery's office.
>Bonded Labour in India
>January 2000
>During 1999, an Indian human rights organisation, Volunteers for Social
>Justice, identified dozens of people being held as bonded labourers in the
>villages of Kili-Nihal-Singh-Wala and Buraj Mehma, in Punjab State.
>On 13 November 1999, Volunteers for Social Justice filed a number of test
>cases from the two villages with the District Magistrate. The cases
>involved eleven women who took loans ranging between 3,000 and 10,000 ru
>pees (US$70 - $230) and are now all bonded labourers working to repay the
>interest on their loans. They receive no wages for their labour and some of
>the women's children or grandchildren have to help with the domestic work
>instead of attending school.
>When the landlords heard of the cases that had been filed against them,
>they threatened to kill the women and destroy their property unless the
>complaints were withdrawn.
>One of the bonded labourers who refused to do this, Dheer Kaur, said that
>on the morning of 10 December 1999, she was forced by the landlords to put
>her thumbprint on a pre-written statement which said that she was dropping
>her complaint.
>Shikari Pritam, the husband of one of the eleven women listed in the test
>cases, is reported to be on the hit list of the landlords, and the police
>have not provided him with any protection. Moreover, the District
>Magistrate to whom the original complaints were made, and who started an
>investigation into the landlord's use of bonded labourers, has been
>transferred from his post.
>According to Volunteers for Social Justice, as of 17 January 2000, no
>prosecutions had been initiated against the landlords, either for illegally
>employing bonded labourers or for using threats and intimidation to try and
>persuade the bonded labourers to abandon their attempts to free themselves.
>What is bonded labour?
>Bonded labour - or debt bondage - is probably the least known form of
>slavery today, and yet it is the most widely used method of enslaving
>people. A person becomes a bonded labourer when their labour is demanded
>as a means of repayment for a loan. The person is then tricked or trapped
>into working for very little or no pay, often for seven days a week. The
>value of their work is invariably greater than the original sum of money
>borrowed. The United Nations Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery
>estimated in 1999 that some 20 million people are held in bonded labour
>around the world.
>Baljinder is 12 years old and lives in the village of Kili-Nihal-Singh-Wala
>in India. Her mother, who is a bonded domestic servant, bonded Baljinder
>for a loan of 5,000 rupees (US$115). While Baljinder was working along
>side her mother in their employer's household, she was raped by her
>employer, Malkiat Singh Numberdar. When Baljinder's mother took her to the
>police station, no one wanted to listen. Two lawyers from Volunteers for
>Social Justice took up Baljinder's case. But Malkiat Singh Numberdar, who
>is a wealthy landlord, has only been charged with the lesser offence of
>"intent to outrage her modesty". No action has been taken against Malkait
>Singh Numberdar for his illegal use of bonded labourers.
>What the law says
>Bonded labour is illegal in India. Article 23 of the Indian Constitution
>prohibits the use of forced labour. Bonded labour is also specifically
>outlawed under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976 and the
>Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act
>Under international legislation, bonded labour is prohibited by the 1948
>Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the 1956 UN Supplementary
>Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions
>and Practices Similar to Slavery. The International Labour Organisation's
>Convention 29 also prohibits bonded labour. India is a signatory to all of
>What you can do about it
>Please write a politely worded letter to India's Minister of External
>Affairs and copy the letter to the Chief Minister of Punjab and the Indian
>Embassy in your country. Express your concern over the continuing use of
>bonded labour and urge the Indian Government to:
>Ensure the immediate release and rehabilitation of the bonded labourers
>from Kili-Nihal-Singh-Wala and Buraj Mehma as required by the Bonded Labour
>System (Abolition) Act 1976;
>Prosecute all landlords who have illegally employed bonded labourers;
>Initiate investigations into the charges that bonded labourers have been
>subject to intimidation and threats in trying to exercise their rights and
>ensure the prosecution of all those found to be responsible.
>Mr Jaswant Singh
>Minister of External Affairs
>South Block
>New Delhi 11 0011
>Salutation: Mr Singh
>Mr Parkash Singh Badal
>Chief Minister of Punjab
>Civil Sectariat
>Salutation: Mr Singh Badal
>Mr N Dayal
>High Commissioner for India
>India House
>London WC2B 4NA
>Fax: 020 7836-4331
>Salutation: Your Excellency
>If you require any further information please contact Jen Escher, Campaigns
>Officer, on 020 7501- 8933 or e-mail her at
>Please forward copies of any responses you receive to Anti-Slavery.
>Anti-Slavery is a registered charity 1049160.
>Jen Escher
>Campaigns Officer
>Thomas Clarkson House
>The Stableyard
>Broomgrove Road
>London SW9 9TL UK
>direct tel: +44 (0)207 501-8933
>reception: +44 (0)207 501-8920
>fax: +44 (0)207 738-4110
>Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking
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Melanie Orhant

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dealing with human rights abuses associated with trafficking
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