Wednesday, September 19, 2007

bonded labor - not just in bihar

I'm doing a little reporting on bonded labor this week, so my translator and I made the short hop to Faridabad to visit a stone quarry that employs "freed" bonded laborers -- following intercession on their behalf by Swami Agnivesh. I was intrigued to learn that the conditions of their present contracts are hardly more liberal than the original bonds. The only difference, essentially, is that now they receive cash wages, the terms of their debts are written down and nominally at least they can eventually pay off what they owe. When I first met them, they identified themselves as "former" bonded laborers for this reason, and because they are allowed to move from one employer to another provided they can get a second loan with which to pay off the first guy.

Frankly, I was shocked--not to find bonded labor still exists, but to find out that it was practiced so blatantly so close to the Parliament and that the victims don't even consider themselves to be bonded laborers anymore. The guys I spoke to had all taken loans of 15,000-20,000 from their employer over the years because they receive very low wages and they are required to supply their own equipment, dynamite etc. They're convinced that the employer (who supplies the gear) overcharges them, but they have no other recourse, since they don't have trucks to transport their own dynamite, etc. They're also convinced that the boss downgrades the rock they produce unfairly so he can underpay them. And -- in classic bonded labor fashion -- they have no idea of the rate of interest they're paying on their loans, how long it will take them to pay them off, or any of the financial terms.

And these are the "freed" guys!

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