Millions of people living below the poverty line in South Asia are desperate for the chance to make money and find a way to support their families. Individuals and families are easily seduced into a life of abuse by the promise of making enough money to pay off debts through bonded labor.
Unfortunately the stories workers are told are usually untruthful and deceptive, and laborers are immediately exploited upon hire.
In 1976 an abolition act was passed, known as the Indian Bonded Labor System Abolition Act, which bans forced labor, bonded labor and any “service arising out of debt.” Despite this law, workers in Dalit, India, are still falling prey to cheap labor and physically-abusive work conditions.
Recently in Nuagada, Nilambar Majhi and Dialu Nial where offered a $225 payment in order to work for a man. They were given money in advance and were told that they would pay it back in exchange for their labor at a brick kiln, but once on a train headed to the South India state, they tried to escape with a group of people.
Their escape attempt was unsuccessful.
In response, they were asked to return the cost of their advance money as well as the rest of the group’s money. Unable to return the money, they were “held captive for days, where they were tortured.”
Nilambar and Dialu, the only two captured, were told they had to make a choice: their hands, their legs, or their life. The captors proceeded to amputate their hands.
“Three men held us down and cut our hands off, one by one, like you cut a chicken. Then they picked up our hands and threw them away,” Nilambar said.
Sadly this is not out of the ordinary for bonded labor conditions. Abuse is common: days are long, payment is minimal, two meals are offered a day, and sometimes workers have only one pair of clothes for a year.
Women and children typically have no choice but to work in bonded labor occupations. Patriarchal social hierarchies restrict women’s options forcing them to work as silk farmers, weavers and in other stereotypical household positions.
Children also face long days of work in a spectrum of occupation – some days they are subject to working 14 hours every day because they are seen as “cheap labor.” These long days and the poor work conditions expose the children to disease and health issues.
The one unique aspect of Nilambar and Dialu’s situation is that they were able to escape their captors. Andy Griffiths, who works for International Justice Mission, believes that by exposing Nilambar and Dialu’s story, more attention will be focused on modern-day slavery and the brutalities of bonded labor, and hopefully bring Nilambar and Dialu’s captors to justice.
– Becka Felcon