The Indian brick making industry is rife with cases of systematic slavery. Up to 23 million people are enslaved across India’s 125,000 brick kiln factories. One-third of those enslaved are children. Despite being prohibited in the Indian Constitution, and international law, millions of Indian’s are intergenerationally trapped by debt-bondage schemes. Debt-bondage is the most common form of slavery in the 21st century yet it remains the least well-known type. Bound by invisible chains, debt-bondage propositions force workers to pay off debt while working for little or no pay. The Indian national minimum wage is $0.28 U.S., though brick kiln slaves make 90% of working Indian’s participate in the informal unregulated economy. Being a part of the informal economy leaves workers at the mercy of cruel business owners. Uninspected worksites, no legal protections, as well as a dismissal of minimum wage requirements foster’s environments built on principles of dominion.
An Anti-Slavery International Report found that 96% of brick kiln moulders had taken loans and had the entirety of their wages withheld for seasons lasting eight to ten months. This report also found that the average workday in the Punjabi Summer was 14 hours a day (nine for pre-teenage children). Perhaps most enlightening, according to a Tribe, Caste, Class, and Inequality paper by the Oxford University Press, brick moulders consist almost entirely of minority groups that are traditionally marginalized. Providing a deeper insight into some of the common experiences of Indian brick kiln workers this same report retold the story of one anonymous female slave escapee.
She said, “In the kiln, the work finishes only when it finishes, it is endless. We do not stop even if we are ill because we fear – what if our debt is increasing? So we don’t dare to stop. We are kept in the dark about how much we owe. Whenever we asked, the debt was still not paid.” Thankfully, international bodies are taking action against these inhumane practices. The United Nations and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have combined to introduce new responsibilities for multinational companies to check on any human rights abuses in their supply chains.
However, already with a minimum wage act, bonded labour act, and interstate migrant workers act, more legislation isn’t necessarily the solution to this pervasive problem. Following on from the United Nations advancements in ending workplace slavery in Indian kilns, the next phase of progress will be best achieved from a focus on community empowerment. Empowerment through rights education will show sufferers legal rights they never knew they had. Rights education is also a great tool to see how others in similar circumstances have reclaimed their freedom. Following this, educated community committees could develop strategies to overcome the authority of slaveholders and lobby for police rescues. Village and township leaders should do everything in their power to invest in healthcare, economic development, and most importantly schools to break this appalling cycle. In addition to these measures, transnational schooling should be introduced so that children who have gaps in their education can rejoin their peers with accelerated remedial classes.
It’s of great importance for the Indian Government to take a stand against archaic workplace practices which have caused endless amounts of suffering. The Government must follow international doctrine eliminating all forms of slavery. Forced labour and servitude are unacceptable violations of individual freedoms and will continue to deny millions of people their basic dignity without intervention.
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