India has a population of more than 1.3 billion people, there are still at least 270 million people living on less than US$1.90 per day. While laws, systems and attitudes regarding key 'fault lines' such as the caste system, gender and feudalism are rapidly changing, social change of this depth and scale necessarily takes time. In this context, it is perhaps unsurprising that existing research suggests that all forms of modern slavery continue to exist in India, including intergenerational bonded labour, forced child labour, commercial sexual exploitation, forced begging, forced recruitment into nonstate armed groups and forced marriage. While bonded labour has been outlawed for decades, survey data and pre-existing research confirms that this practice still persists. Bonded labour is not only illegal, research confirms that it has serious negative health impacts for those affected, who typically work in unsanitary and dangerous working conditions with no access to health care.
Deven was a young girl when she was forced to work at a mill after her mother had taken a Rs 10,000 advance from the mill owner. Deven was forced to work under difficult conditions and subjected to verbal, physical and sexual abuse.
If one’s dignity, self-respect and self-worth must be forgotten and one should be like a walking corpse, then only those like me, without anything and from lower community, can live. In this society without justice those who adjust with the supervisor can work happily and put up for the work and go peacefully. My mother, who brought me up with dignity, cannot adjust and feels that I should have died; I said this when I started to narrate my life history. Those who are like me in this society should live either by being shameless [or] if not then should become dust. Your wish to go to college to study like upper caste, it becomes unfulfilled desire
My one-day salary was Rs 180. But the job was very difficult. If the supervisor sees a pubescent girl, he doesn’t hesitate to touch them everywhere. He would want to look inside our blouses and asks us to bend 4 or 5 times. After some time, I couldn’t keep quiet. He came and touched my breasts one day. All the suppressed anger came out and I spat in his face and pushed him away. He verbally abused me. After that he changed me to a very difficult shift. I wanted to take revenge on him. One day when I had gone to the restroom, he was waiting outside the door; that bastard. He came and started to hurl bad words at me. He said if he touches any other girl with big breasts they get attracted at his touch. You do not know anything. So if I touch you, you will get big breasts he said without any shame. I could not work one more day there. I tried to commit suicide in the mill itself. But I wanted to take revenge on him. I wanted him to be punished for his deeds. My mother came to see me in the mill hostel one day. I could not share with her neither my feelings nor my problems, only tears came. Because the supervisor was standing and watching me closely what I was saying to my mother. I said that my mother wanted to pass urine and took her to the mill’s toilet. But he sent the lady warden to the toilet. And so I could not tell my mother properly anything. I told my mother to take me to home with her. But my mother refused saying she had spent the entire advance Rs 10,000. You work for some more months here, my mother told me as she hugged and kissed my forehead and she too left crying.
As told to the Institute of Development Studies for their report 'Patterns and Dynamics of Bonded Labour and Child Labour in the Spinning Mills of Tamil Nadu: Findings from Life Story Analysis'