A remarkable rescue in Bihar

An NGO that IJM partners with in the northern state of Bihar recently did a rescue that shows that things are changing on the ground, but also shows how alarming the facts are still on the ground. The rescue was done with the National Human Rights Commission, a government body that ensures that human rights are protected, and reported here. There were 118 people from 38 families in a traditional bonded labour case in which the families had been victims for generations:

The petitioner alleged that more than thirty eight families are being exploited under an illegal bonded labour system in the revenue jurisdiction of Benipatti Sub-Division of Madhubani District. These labourers were forced to work by their respective employers at agricultural lands under “Kamiya” bonded labour custom.

The labourers are working since generations. The labourers are not paid their statutory minimum wages, instead they receive in kind two kilograms each (husband and wife) of raw rice per day against their hard labour rendered. Most of the labourers belong to the Scheduled Caste category (Mushahar) and work more than 10 hours a day. They are trapped in a customary bonded labour system in which the labourers are not free to move out or to be employed elsewhere, alleged the Petitioner.
Just to repeat. People were forced to work for generations and paid in kind in raw rice. Two kilograms per day. With subsidies for the poor, one kilogram of rice can cost just Rs. 5, or or less than $0.10. This long-term, generational oppression happened, in part, due to the caste system. The owners of the farmland were high caste, while the workers were dalits or untouchables.
The story continues, noting that

Accordingly ‘Release Certificates’ have issued to them and at least 113 cases have been filled against 18 errant employers under section 20(2) Minimum Wages Act, 1948 in respect of 48 labourers. They are also booked under the provisions of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, the Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, the Child Labour Act, the Juvenile Justice Act and the Indian Penal Code.

The full report by the NHRC on the case  is here. In that it is also noted that those 18 were charged under the human trafficking offence, which means that they are eligible for life in prison. The report goes into detail about the personal stories of the victims and the resistance that local leaders had to the government responding.

With this report, you actually have one of the best documented modern cases of this form of generational slavery that still occurs throughout the country.

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