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.
Agira worked and often stayed in a hostel where she was forced to do overtime, clean machines after work and was subjected to threats and physical violence. Later on, Agira went to work at a mill but when she wanted to leave and went to collect her money it was refused and she was told she would have to work for 6 months to receive any of her wages.
Initially we used to go daily for work from home; since it was difficult we went and stayed at the hostel. Our salary one day was 220 rupees. My mother used to visit us once in a month. We thought we could take rest in the hostel but it was not so. We were forced to do overtime and also clean the machines after work since we were in the hostel. Also the supervisor troubled us much. He used to always be looking at us with a silly smile. If we are not careful he might do anything to us. One day I decided to be at the hostel because of stomach pain during menstruation. As I was lying down someone came and gave me slap on my cheek; it was my hostel warden. She started to scold me by saying you are always saying some lame excuse to not go for work. Weekly once four of us had to join and clean the toilets; it was very difficult and I used to cry. When my mother came to visit us we cried to her and told all our troubles and asked her to take us home. So my mother came and took us with her and got the salary the very next week. After that we worked in the mills for six months. There also they would ask us to do lot of overtime. We did not continue and when we went and asked the provident fund money they refused to give us saying if you work only for six months it does not belong to you but to the government.
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'