Author Archives: Amanda Butler

On a clear night, you can see Orion

Perhaps the question I dread most upon returning to the U.S. is this one: so, what is it like there? It’s like this only: “It varies.” Those are the first words out of my mouth when I answer questions about the U.S., whether about culture or weather or law or food, and they are true here, only more so. How can it not? Over 1.2 billion people–quadruple the U.S. population–in an area just over a third as large, speaking over 400 languages, twenty-two of which are scheduled (recognized) regional languages.

My answer to the question of what it is like is also schizophrenic in the extreme, and incomplete. I’ve lived on the Deccan Plateau in the silicon city, and on the Gangetic plains in the capital city–by some accounts, the place that resulted after seven or more cities were constructed, destroyed, and conglomerated over the last 2500 years. I’ve ventured north to Ladakh, in the high desert mountains near the Tibetan border, but I’ve only dipped my toes into the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. I’ve never ventured through much of the center, be it Madhya Pradesh or Andhra Pradesh or the tribal belt, and never ventured to Kolkata and the northeast–the furthest east I’ve been is possibly about three kilometers east of that terminus of the Delhi metro in Uttar Pradesh. Read More →

Trafficking in the U.S.: After Hurricane Katrina

Signal shipyard in Orange, Texas

Signal shipyard in Orange, Texas

Last week, a federal jury in the Eastern District of Louisiana awarded $14 million to five Indian laborers who had been deceptively recruited to work in Pascagoula, Mississippi and Orange, Texas:

The workers paid fees of more than $10,000 to Signal recruiters who coordinated the hiring of some 500 welders and pipefitters in 2005, as the company faced a shortage of skilled labor and a glut of work in the months after Hurricane Katrina. Workers arrived in the United States to find that recruiters’ promise of green cards — and permanent U.S. residency — were false, and that they would have to live in the cramped quarters of ‘man camps’ adjacent to the shipyard [paying $1050 per month for a double-wide trailer with two toilets shared by 24 men]. Under laws governing guest workers, the men could not take other jobs in the U.S. and faced massive debt if they returned home.

The most unique part of their story is that these laborers were found, identified as victims of labour trafficking, and a case successfully brought against the traffickers for exploitation, fraud, discrimination, and racketeering (a civil suit through the Southern Poverty Law Center, David v Signal Int’l LLC, 2:08-cv-01220). These five men were among approximately 590 laborers brought by Signal under H-2B visas to work in its shipyards after Katrina.

The rest of the story is common. In the U.S., labour trafficking often has a slight perversion from the debt bondage in South Asia: instead of workers being paid advances by their employers, workers frequently pay recruitment fees to secure their jobs. These fees often amount to a year’s salary in the home country, and are raised through moneylenders and mortgage of house, farm, and any other family land. The worker whose job does not pan out faces the loss of nearly everything, for self and for family also.

The recruitment fees the men paid were illegal: charging job placement fees to H-2 visa holders is forbidden. A study released last year by the Urban Institute found that “On average, victims [of labour trafficking] paid $6,150 in recruitment fees to recruitment agencies for jobs in the United States,” an amount “higher than the annual per capita income of the top six countries of origin for victims” in the study, namely Mexico, Philippines, India, Thailand, Guatemala, and Indonesia. Likewise, a 2013 study by Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, focusing on migrants recruited from Mexico to the U.S., found that 59% of migrants paid illegal recruitment fees.

Another story out of Katrina–one of the first to emerge in 2007–involved Thai workers who had been recruited on H2-A visas for farm work in North Carolina, paying $11000 or more for these opportunities. Pay was less, hours less, and living conditions far worse than promised, and their passports illegally confiscated on arrival. At this point, a trafficking offense could have been made out. It got worse. A few months after their arrival, the labor recruiter sent the workers for demolition work in New Orleans. From the amended complaint: worse than unsanitary living conditions in a condemned hotel, an supervisor armed with a gun and orders to shoot any outsiders who came to the site, and simply no paychecks at all, and hunger. These allegations are uncomfortably similar to what we see here, in South Asia.

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“. . . that the peasants shall not work for nothing, since the labourer is worthy of his hire.”

The title of this post is a quote from the eighth of the Twelve Articles of the Schwabian Peasants, from 1525. These articles are a plea to be released from serfdom and oppressive requirements for forced labour, to be judged according to written laws, to have religious freedom and be able to call their own pastors, and to be able to gather resources from common public lands and waterways. I re-read these articles recently, in the context of a recent rescue, as the fifth article memorably begins “We also have a grievance about wood-cutting,” and that line has stuck with me through the years. This time, on re-reading, the third article’s cry for a fundamental right to freedom stood out the loudest:

It has been the custom hitherto for men to hold us as their own property, which is pitiable enough, considering that Christ has delivered and redeemed us all, without exception, by the shedding of His precious blood, the lowly as well as the great. Accordingly, it is consistent with Scripture that we should be free and wish to be so.

The issues from 1525–that the labourer is worth of his hire; that people are free and ought not be held as property–have yet to be fully vindicated.

I returned to these articles, as I noted, after a rescue earlier this month. That rescue involved wood-cutters, some whom had spent the last two decades in bondage and whose children had been born into bondage. Here’s the story, as reported by the Hindu:

Sixteen bonded labourers, including four children, who were forced to cut wood 18 hours a day were released from bondage here in Nellore district recently. . . .

The owners, who forced them into bonded labour belonged to an upper caste in the region. Most of the victims belonged to the Yanadi tribe (ST) and they were toiling hard from 6 a.m. to midnight. . . .

It is found that the labourers were forced to make bundles of hundreds of kilos of wood each day and received only Rs. 500 for Rs. 1,000 [$8 to $16] a family every two weeks, which is far below the minimum wage.

Enquiries by the NGOs revealed that some of the labourers had received a small advance of Rs. 13,000 [$210] in 1994 from a man who later sold them to the most recent owners.

As the article also explains, the labourers were not allowed to take on other work or to leave the job premises without permission and without leaving family members behind as security, and the children were not allowed to attend school but instead forced to join in the work. These are sadly common elements of bonded labour.

Trafficking: Jharkhand to Delhi


Poverty Distribution by States

Jharkhand is one of India’s newer states, carved in 2000 from the southern section of Bihar, lying in a region rich in mineral deposits and, until recently, quite thickly forested. It is also, by some calculations, India’s second-poorest state. Two demographic points are key: the tribal population is significant, at 26%, and the state is among the most affected by Naxalite insurgencies. For these reasons and more, Jharkhand is a substantial source state for trafficking within India.

That domestic trafficking is the subject of a three-piece series in Mumbai-based newspaper dna, published this Republic Day weekend.

  1. trafficked: “The man who trafficked 5,000 tribal kids; dna explores a dark underbelly of modern day slavery”
  2. without deterrence: “Poor policing lets slave traders off the hook”
  3. without rehabilitation: “Battered and bruised, some return, some are never to be seen again..”

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Trafficking of Persons and the Law

A while back, when defining bonded labour, I promised a similar legal explanation of the crime of trafficking. This month seems as fitting a time as any: January is anti-human trafficking awareness month in the U.S., and earlier this month, trafficking was the subject of Pope Francis’s first mass of the new year. It’s on topic, too, because many bonded labourers are persons who have been trafficked for exploitation as bonded labourers. So, what is trafficking?

(A caveat: if this sounds too dry, skip to the bottom for illustrations and stories.)


The Palermo Protocol on trafficking, adopted by the United Nations in 2000, defines trafficking in person as a crime consisting of three elements: an act that sometimes but not always physically displaces a person, and a means that prevents the trafficked person from giving full and meaningful consent, all done for the purpose of exploitation.


  • the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons;


  • by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person;

purpose of exploitation: 

  • Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs. [note: Bonded labour, or debt bondage, is a subtype of forced labour.]

Following the Palermo Protocol, many countries revised or implemented their criminal laws to specifically target trafficking itself, adopting legislation that closely tracked the international definition. Canada (CC s. 279.01), India (IPC s. 370, as amended in 2013), and the U.S. (22 U.S.C. § 7102(9)) all undertook such amendments.

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“Nothing Less than the Birth of Indian Painting”

In more belated news, two weeks ago I attended an event at the National Gallery of Modern Art was “Ajanta Cave Murals: Nothing Less than the Birth of Indian Painting.” I’d come to hear the presenter, William Dalrymple, author of nine books, including White Mughals and City of Djinns, to name the two on the shelf beside me. He was speaking on mural paintings at the Ajanta cave complex, about 100 km northeast of Aurangabad, at which the oldest known paintings of Indian faces—indeed, also the oldest known Buddhist paintings—were recently uncovered.

Detail from Mural, Cave 10

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Things Not Seen

Tasveer is an online photography magazine, a set of galleries with exhibitions, in Bangalore as well as Delhi, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, and Mumbai, and a publisher of exhibition catalogues.  It is also a look into many things I will never see, all shrunken on an iPad screen for browsing on a lazy afternoon, as I smell the neighbors’ lunches cooking and listen to the birds outside.

Tasveer introduced me to the work of Vivek Muthuramalingam, a Bangalorean photographer, whose Vanishing Sea series shows the silted-up port of a coastal city, quite reminiscent of the Aral Sea.  He also did a series on migrants from Tamil Nadu, working in the Quarries of Rampura (oh, I have so many work-related questions).  As he writes about the series:

In the rocky outskirts of Bangalore, close to a village called Rampura, I stood witness to an occupation that looks both primitive and merciless. A group of labourers from Thiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu toil hard for long hours under the fierce afternoon sun, breaking rocks with a chisel and hammer and with bare naked hands to eke out a living…. Manoharan, a worker at the quarry, shows me with a tinge of authority the dynamite sticks that they use for the late evening blasts to break the bigger rocks. He also shows me around what was once his home- ‘Although people are evacuated before the blasts begin unexpected shrapnel sometimes crash into our huts rendering them irreparable. We just have to build another’.

Vivek Muthuramalingam, Women toil hard at the quarry

(More photographs below the fold; patience, please, if it’s slow to load.)

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Nobel Peace Prize for the Fight against Child Trafficking

Kailash Satyarthi

Yesterday, in the middle of a hectic afternoon, came the news that Kailash Satyarthi, the founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. As millions said “Who?”, the resulting traffic apparently crashed BBA’s website.

Not everyone needed to Google India’s eighth Nobel laureate.

In 1980, Laxman Singh was seven-year-old and working at a stone quarry in Faridabad with his parents.

Thirty-four years later, Singh is a treasurer at Bachpan Bachao Andolan headquarters at Kalkaji in Delhi. “I would have languished as a stone quarry labourer in Faridabad had Kailash Satyarthi not made efforts to rescue us,” he said.

Singh was among 2,500 workers and their children who were rescued from the stone quarry by a team of activists, led by Satyarthi

I didn’t go to the website when the news broke; I’d last been there within the week reviewing some of the precedent-setting legal cases BBA has been involved in. BBA (the Save the Childhood Foundation) is a leader in the fights against child trafficking and child labour, and in requiring police to take cases of missing children seriously, and in vindicating the rights of children to a free and compulsory education. BBA actively rescues and rehabilitates children from these situations, and also files lawsuits—public interest litigation (PILs)—to compel the government to adopt policies to prevent the exploitation of children.

Here’s some of the work BBA has done, with two quick explanations.

  • A PIL is a lawsuit, which can be filed directly at the highest court in the land, asking the judiciary to take affirmative steps to protect the right of citizens, particularly the poor and vulnerable.
  • In employment law, a child is below 14 years of age. Child labour, outside of defined dangerous jobs and within confined hours, is legal.

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The Course of Justice Never Did Run Smooth

The great property theorist Harold Demsetz once said, “The court is not a market institution. If you don’t believe me, ask [Judge] Richard Posner, who’s here, how difficult it is to collect payment for a correct decision.”

Had Professor Demsetz been speaking where I’m sitting, he might have also mentioned the difficulties of collecting for a timely decision.

Imagine that your dispute is being heard before Judge Wapner, who has resolved the pre-trial disputes and heard testimony from half the witnesses. Judge Wapner retires. No judge is appointed to take his place on the bench of the People’s Court for months on end. The case languishes, unmoving, until Judge Judy is finally appointed. She sits on the bench and conducts a hearing to come up to speed on the case. She then disappears, and trial again languishes, while the Judge attends two to four months of mandatory training. It’s time again for witnesses to resume testifying.

What else could slow you down? Perhaps no stenographer has been appointed, and therefore no orders are being written. (Are you tempted to volunteer that a law school education left you with excellent dictation and typing skills, and that you’ll bring your own laptop and portable printer?) Perhaps defense counsel is busy (or ‘busy’) in another court, and has sent a junior for the sole purpose of taking an adjournment. Perhaps no prosecutor has been appointed to the court hall. Unless you, as a private pleader, can get appointed as the prosecutor, the case will not move forward until an appropriate warm body, with the authority to appear before that judge, is found and moved into place. Or, more simply, perhaps the accused did not show up that day—a warrant for his appearance is unlikely to be issued until the second or third time he no-shows on flimsy excuse. And witnesses themselves may have been transferred, moved in search of other jobs, or changed phone numbers. It’s a big country in which to find someone.

These problems mount. India’s backlog of pending court cases at all levels of the judiciary currently stands at approximately 31 million cases (over 65,000 of these are pending at the Supreme Court).  Resolution comes slowly: in 2011, it was estimated that 24% of cases had been pending for five years or longer, and 9% of cases had been pending for ten years or longer.[1]  I mainly think of these issues from the side of the prosecution, but as Amnesty notes, two-thirds of prisoners in India are awaiting trial or undergoing trial, and have not yet been convicted of any crime.  It’s also important to recognize that about 37% of pending cases are traffic cases.  Still, the number of pending criminal cases, under the penal code, has increased at an alarming rate.

Backlog of criminal cases under the Indian Penal Code (and not any other criminal laws), per the National Crime Record Bureau

Backlog of criminal cases under the Indian Penal Code (“IPC”), per the National Crime Record Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs. Criminal cases under the IPC represent approximately 40% of all cognizable crimes annually.

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Hampi: Capital of the Vijayanagar Empire

Near Chakratirtha, a sacred space for bathing

Near Chakratirtha, a sacred space for bathing

The speed with which we process and post our photos is embarrassingly slow, so I will simply say that at some point in the past, we took a weekend trip to Hampi, in the Deccan Plateau of northwest Karnataka, and then skip quickly to the question of what is Hampi.  From the 14th to 16th centuries, Hampi was the capital city of the Vijayanagar Empire, the last great Hindu empire of South India.  In its heyday in 1500, Hampi was home to an estimated 300,000 – 500,000 people; if at the higher end, it would have been the second-largest city in the world, after Beijing.  In 1565, the city of Hampi fell to the Deccan Muslim confederacy in the Battle of Talikota, and never regained its former predominance.

Today, the Group of Monuments at Hampi are a UNESCO world heritage site, with over 1600 remaining buildings and ruins sprawling over 10,000 acres.  Hampi is now home to a small community that serves the tourist and pilgrimage trade.  The former are particularly prone to dreadlocks, and I believe solely responsible for the following language in the Karnataka State Police Manual.

8. OVER STAYERS Immigration officers at places of exit have discretion to condone at the time of departure of foreigner, minor irregularities like overstay up to 3 or 4 days. In all other cases, where the foreigner has exceeded the condition of Visa or 30 days landing permit, notice should be taken of the overstayal in order to discourage such instances. Hippies tend to overstay in India and prosecution is called for in such cases. . . .

Hanuman relief

Hanuman relief

Part of Hampi’s charm is gawking at hippies and roaming around on rented mopeds, feeling like you’re in the midst of a low-speed chase scene (not too fast, or you’ll run out of petrol before nightfall).  The majority of the charm, though, lies in the remarkable buildings bearing witness to the height of this empire.  There is very little signage as you wander from site to site in Hampi, and so the entire site feels more mysterious, and the disparate clusters of buildings less connected.  And so you wander around these monuments, in varying states of repair and rebuilding, in a landscape dotted with massive granite boulders.  It feels like giants were a game and, interrupted, stood and departed, leaving behind their dollhouses and balls.[1]

(Photos, below the fold, with apologies for the odd spacing).

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