Puspal was a bonded labourer in a brick kiln in India. Entire families migrate every year from other states in India to find work in Punjab’s brick kilns. The survey data suggest that there are more than 18 million people or 1.4 percent of the total population, who are living in conditions of modern slavery in India. Industries implicated in survey data include domestic work, the construction and sex industries, agriculture, fishing, manufacturing, manual labour, and forced begging. Most of India’s slavery problem is internal, and those from the most disadvantaged social strata—lowest caste Dalits, members of tribal communities, religious minorities, and women and girls from excluded groups—are most vulnerable.
My husband had been working in kilns for five years and didn’t seem to be earning any money. 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 are owed. Whenever we asked, the debt was still not paid.
My husband, Raju, was asked to bring more families back from Chhattisgarh. He was told that he would get a commission and that we would have less debt to pay off.
We mortgaged whatever we had at home, including my jewellery, so that we could go and bring more families. However, when we got back to the kiln with the families, the new workers were not paid any of the allowance they had been promised and were starving.
They tried to leave, but two got caught. They locked them up and started beating them. They told the workers, ‘if you want to go from here, you must pay 60,000, that is your debt’.
Raju found the number for VSJ (Volunteers for Social Justice) and went to ask for help. He was away for fifteen days. I was alone with the children at the brick kiln and the owner got very suspicious. He searched for Raju, demanding to know where he was.
At this time I was pregnant and fell very ill. I called VSJ, feeling desperate, and they sent someone to the kiln to take me to hospital, where I was treated and also had the baby. After I had the child, we all came to the project’s temporary rehabilitation centre, and Raju now works for VSJ.
As a woman I do not feel safe. I fear for my children. What if they become like us, without a house, without food, always desperate.
Narratives as told to Anti-Slavery International