Bonded Labour is an oppressive form of forced labour in which compulsion to servitude occurs due to a debt or other obligation (customary, caste-based, economic consideration). The labourer forfeits certain basic rights and freedom that are guaranteed by the Indian Constitution often enforced by force or social slavery or discrimination. The Bonded Labour System refers to “the relationship between a creditor and a debtor who obtains loan owing to economic compulsions confronting his day-to-day life, and agrees to abide by the terms dictated by the creditor”. The important term of agreement is that the debtor agrees to mortgage his services or services of any or all the members of his family for a specified or unspecified period. The relationship built on the agreement is on such unequal terms that while for every labour or service, there must be some fair remuneration equivalent to the price of labour in the market, under the bonded labour system the service is rendered for the debt or in lieu of the interest accruing to the debt. The debtor either works without receiving any remuneration or if at all there is any remuneration, it is much less than the minimum wage (notified under the Minimum Wages Act) or the prevailing rate of market wage. In fact, the system of bonded labour, as prevalent in Indian society, is a relic of feudal hierarchical society. A considerable interest has come to be shown in bonded labour during the past two decades by social workers, social scientists and the government because it is considered incompatible with our social ideal of egalitarianism with our commitment to human rights. The magnitude of bonded labour is just baffling as lakhs of adult males and females as well as children are condemned to suffering under its yoke. The oppressor keeps the labourer in perpetual bondage for his or her own selfish and personal designs and often enforces the same through physical violence, verbal insults, brute force, threat of immigration exposure, oppressing fellow family, organ donoring and sexual abuse. These are often the common elements that make it a serious human rights crime. The victims are told that their freedom will be restored only upon repayment of the advance. However, as the labourer soon realises, the entire system has been designed to make repayment impossible. Abysmally low wages, exorbitant interest rates and falsified account-keeping ensure that the illiterate labourer is trapped for years, sometimes generations.
This is a modern form of slavery.