COVID-19 Keeps Indian Laborers in Debt BondageBonded labor is a form of modern-day slavery in which a person is forced to work to pay off a debt. Laborers are paid very little and have no control over their debt. In India, debt bondage aligns with the caste system to keep the lower castes (called Dalits, or Untouchables) impoverished. While this is a fate that could befall anyone, there are more safety nets in place for higher caste workers than for Dalits. COVID-19 keeps Indian laborers in debt bondage and has worsened the conditions.

Bonded Labor in India

Bonded labor is common in South Asian countries, despite it being banned in India in 1976. According to a 2018 survey, more than eight million people live in debt bondage in India, though experts estimate the actual number to be much higher. Most laborers work in India’s booming textile sector but bonded labor exists in every industry.

The conditions under which bonded laborers work are abhorrent. Men, women and children work 14-hour days with no breaks, and the treatment is brutal. Women and children are often victims of sexual exploitation. Dissent is met with harsh punishments. This includes vicious beatings and an increase in the debt owed. In 2014, a group of bonded laborers tried to escape their captors; two were caught and had their hands cut off as punishment.

The Effects of COVID-19 on Bonded Labor

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issue of debt bondage in India. As millions of migrant laborers were forced to move during the pandemic, factory owners scrambled for cheap labor to keep production going. Many companies recruited child laborers with promises of steady employment until the country reopened.

Moreover, many states in India have loosened labor laws to offset the effects of COVID-19 at the expense of the laborers. Punjab and Gujarat amended their Factories Act, which increased the work hours to 72 hours each week. Rajasthan has increased working hours from eight per day to 12. Uttar Pradesh has exempted companies from almost all labor laws for the next three years, including the ones related to occupational safety, health, working conditions, contract workers and migrant laborers. As a result of its secondary consequences, COVID-19 keeps Indian laborers in debt bondage and further restricts laborers the freedom to escape.

In July of 2020, GoodWeave International, an organization dedicated to fighting bonded labor, conducted a study on the effects of the pandemic on forced labor risks. Since the start of the pandemic, workers are three times more likely to report owing a debt to a contractor due to reduced income.

Child Laborers

In addition, more children have been working during the pandemic to help financially support their families. CEO of GoodWeave International Nina Smith said, “there were 152 million child laborers around the world making products we purchase every day prior to the pandemic, down nearly 40% since 2000, according to the International Labor Organization.” However, while before the pandemic eight out of 10 children were in school, data suggests they will not all return when schools reopen. This is because their families have become dependent on their income.

Bonded labor perpetuates the cycle of impoverishment. When children miss school to work in factories, they are denied the chance to elevate themselves through education. When adults must put their money toward paying off insurmountable debts, their quality of life cannot improve.


There are many non-governmental organizations working to solve the problem of bonded labor. The International Justice Mission (IJM) works to rescue people from slavery and help victims get back on their feet. In 2020, IJM supported rescue operations that saved 15 people from a spinning mill, six from a cotton thread factory and three from a garment factory. Clement David of IJM said, “the only way to curb [bonded labor] would be for the government to conduct surprise checks and regular raids to prevent owners from employing child laborers. Also, a comprehensive rehabilitation package for unorganized workers and the vulnerable sector is the need of the hour for families to stop sending their children to work.”

GoodWeave International’s 2020 study also reported on solutions to end the practice of bonded labor. It reports that NGOs must deliver direct aid to vulnerable populations and support essential workers getting documentation to receive relief. Companies must also play a role by supporting on-the-ground relief efforts and building consumer awareness of adverse labor conditions. Governments must strengthen labor laws, subsidize transportation for migrant laborers and build awareness of existing relief channels.

Bonded labor is a reality for millions of people in India, but it does not have to be. With the combined efforts of the Indian government and NGOs, this practice can be ended in favor of fairer working conditions.

– Brooklyn Quallen
Photo: Flickr

Everything You Need to Know About the Protests in India
People in India gathered on December 19, 2019, to protest the government’s intensified religious discrimination. Around 25,000 people filled the streets of Mumbai and 10s of thousands more protested other major cities in India. On Dec. 11, the Indian government passed a new Citizenship Amendment Act. This act makes religion a qualification to gain citizenship. As the people continue to disagree with the actions of the state, here is everything that people should know about the protests in India.

Reasons for the Protests

The Citizenship Amendment Act promises to expedite the citizenship statuses of people of religious minorities in the countries neighboring India. This includes Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and many more, however, it excludes Muslims. Many of the protestors view the bill as an anti-Muslim sentiment in India, coming to a legislative light under Prime Minister Modi, even though Islam is the second-largest religion in India. It also sparks the fear that the 200 million Muslims with citizenship currently living in India could have their status called into question in the future.

Who are the Protestors?

Most of the protestors at the forefront are students from some of India’s most acclaimed universities, like Jamia Milia Islamia University (JMIU) in New Delhi, Tata Institute of Social Sciences and IIT-Bombay. The first protest at JMIU turned violent. In addition, there was rampant police brutality against Muslim students. Consequently, this sparks other universities to stand in solidarity against police brutality. Police officers threw tear gas into the library and hit some nonviolent students with batons.

Violence in the protest

The protests in India as a whole have resulted in the arrests of thousands of people, of which authorities arrested around 5,000 “preventatively” and 23 died. Six people alone died in Uttar Pradesh, a city in the north. However, the police chief of the area, Prakash Singh, claimed that the police did not fire any bullets and that they used only tear gas and batons on peaceful protestors. Despite these claims, the causes of death have yet to receive a public release. The most recent wave of peaceful protests in India has been in violation of an act temporarily preventing gatherings of more than four people at a time, heavily restricting the right to protest at a time of mass civil unrest.

Internet and Cellular Service Shut Downs

The internet and cellular services shut down in parts of the country, specifically the state of Uttar Pradesh. Prior to the cut, authorities arrested over 100 people. As of the end of 2019, there were inflammatory or inciting posts on social media regarding the CAA. Additionally, the police chief backs this move as a means to prevent the circulation of fake news and to stop the apparent fear-mongering of the CAA opposition.

The scale of the public outcry against the Citizenship Amendment Act shows that the fight to maintain India’s position as a secular state is far from over, although the authorities have stopped protestors. Protestors have had international support as well. On December 18, 2019, many people protested outside of the Indian consulate buildings in New York City, Chicago and San Francisco. As the protests in India rage on, the country remains torn over the discriminatory nature of this new law, and what it means for its democracy as a whole.

Anna Sarah Langlois
Photo: UN Multimedia

Last month, two girls were found hanging from trees in India’s Katra village. Another woman claimed she was gang-raped by four police officers. India has had a women’s rights problem for a while now, yet it is only increasing, despite more strict laws. The body of a 19-year-old was just recently found hanging by her scarf from a tree in Uttar Pradesh, making her the state’s fourth female victim in only two weeks.

Rape in India is a rising problem, yet one that is not easily solved. According to official statistics, around 25,000 rapes are committed every year in India, though the number is thought to be much higher due to a common fear of punishment and social stigma. Simply, the problem lies in attitude, not a lack of legislation or protection. “Even though the laws are there, many people feel they can get away with anything, an attitude that some of our politicians have gone out of their way to encourage,” said Ranjana Kumari, a prolific women’s rights activist in New Delhi.

Certain politicians have only exacerbated the problem. Earlier this June, Madhya Pradesh state Home Minister, Babulal Gaur (who oversees police,) claimed that rape was a “social crime,” which depended on the man and woman. “It is sometimes right and sometimes wrong.” Gaur’s statements came just months after Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav opposed the death penalty for rape, claiming “boys will be boys. Sometimes they make mistakes.”

The most recent victim was thought to have been raped and murdered by two men who she told her family had been bothering her. While they have filed a report claiming their suspicions in her death, the case is basically smoke and mirrors: a district police officer told the New York Times that a preliminary postmortem examination found no evidence to suggest rape.

Unfortunately, this ability for men to “get away” with their crimes is exactly what has caused it to spread to this extremity. “This is not something that is particular for Uttar Pradesh,” said Amnesty International India’s senior researcher, Divya Iyer, on the most recent death. “These sporadic news of rapes bring the issue to the fore, but it is important to see it as a continuum. For every case of rape, there are many more that are not reported, because of the stigma attached and the fear of reprisals. It is important to hold politicians accountable for their statements in order to send the right signals to the community.”

— Nick Magnanti

Sources: Fox News, Religion News, Time, NY Times
Photo: Asia Society

Uttar Pradesh is one of India’s poorest states, with the most recent poverty rate estimate by the Planning Commission of the Indian Government at 29.6%. As such, in order for India to continue to grow, the country must reduce the poverty rate in its poorest states. Proper health and nutrition are crucial to eliminating poverty and are why food security is such a focal point of poverty reduction advocates. The role food plays in poverty reduction is also why advocates worldwide have called for the right to food to be recognized universally.

On September 23, 2013, India’s Parliament enacted the Food Security Act. The act is aimed at ensuring that millions of low-income population groups are provided with nutritious food. The legal authority for the act was derived from Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which establishes the fundamental rights to nutritious food and life. Despite the clear benefits, implementing the bill has been surprisingly difficult in some areas.

The Indian National Congress recently protested against Uttar Pradesh’s failure to implement the Food Security Act. During the protest, 100 Congressmen, including senior leaders, were arrested as police charged a mob of party workers trying to forcibly enter the Uttar Pradesh Assembly premises, reports Business Standard. Union Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal demanded that the act be implemented, claiming that the people of Uttar Pradesh had been left out of receiving benefits.

Uttar Pradesh has delayed implementation of the Food Security Act until July 2014, citing the massive cost as the reason for the delay. According to Zee News, President Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in India stated that the act cannot be implemented until the central government in India is ready to bear the entire cost.

The same day as Congress’s protest, the Uttar Pradesh government released a statement, indicating that it had prepared a road map to implement the National Security Act. According to Business Standard, Principal Secretary of Food and Civil Supplies Deepak Trivedi explains that steps have been initiated in Uttar Pradesh on the provisions of the Food Security Act. Officials in Uttar Pradesh have been given instructions to make the implementation of the Act a priority.

– Cavarrio Carter

Sources: Business Standard, The Indian Express, Zee News, Government of India Planning Commission
Photo: Forbes India

World Bank & India's Most Impoverished StateAkhilesh Yadav is more than just a cool name; he’s the Chief Minister of India’s Uttar Pradesh and has recently sought monetary assistance of more than $3.5 billion from the World Bank Group over the next three to five years.

To illustrate India’s need more clearly, Minister Yadav took World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim on a tour of Uttar Pradesh. Home of the Taj Mahal, Uttar Pradesh is also home to the largest number of impoverished people in all of India – a country that has an estimated 37% of people living below the country’s poverty line. With India’s urban population expected to grow by 10 million each year, states such as Uttar Pradesh are in dire need of assistance.

After seeing the poverty in India’s most impoverished state firsthand, Kim agreed that helping Uttar Pradesh and other Indian states are in line with the World Bank’s mission of eliminating global poverty. Among the goals the World Bank supports is the national mission to clean the Ganga River. The World Bank will be contributing $1 billion. The money is to be dispersed through five of the basin states. This contribution supports an existing Indian program: the National Ganga River Basin Project. The Ganga River’s basin community supports more than 400 million Indians, about one-third of the population, and is India’s most important river.

– Pete Grapentien

Source: The World Bank