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.
Ruhi tells of how poverty, a lack of job opportunities and healthcare needs in Uttar Pradesh led her family to borrow money, and accept work from a broker of a brick kiln factory under the promise of Rs.8000 monthly, overtime pay and an advance. However, once her husband travelled to Silchar, her family was abused and the promises went unfulfilled.
I have three sons but the eldest is suffering from tuberculosis from childhood itself. I am worried about him a lot. I sold my jewellery and got him treated but there was no benefit. I also got him treated at the government hospital but there was no benefit. I asked money from the landowner but he did not give any.
We took Rs. 5000 from the mahajan at Rs. 12 % interest and showed to a private doctor at Muzaffarpur but there was no benefit from it. There was starvation in the house for everyone. The situation got worse in the rainy season. There was no work in the village and what work we did for the owner we hardly got paid for it. When we told anything he beat us and abused us and told us to vacate the land. We just used to be quiet.
We got to know that a broker from Silchar for Brick and kiln factory had come to the village. They gave advance money to people and took them to Silchar, Assam. My husband and me also went to talk to him about this. He said my husband would be kept for coal work and would be paid Rs. 8000 monthly. They said he would get overtime money separately. They said if we agree then we can take Rs. 2500 advance money and then can go after ‘chath’. We thought it’s better to go there than work here without any money. We also had a lot of loan due on us and this way it can be repaid.
My husband went to Silchar with the broker after ‘chath’. The owner came and told us many things and abused us. I tolerated everything and whatever is written in the fate happens. After the chimney, work got over the owner there cleared their accounts with the rate of Rs. 4000 monthly. There was no money for overtime. They even cut money for the food they had provided. My husband pleaded a lot in front of the chimney owner but he was merciless and didn’t listen at all. He did cheat on us.
When my husband returned he was very weak. I got him treated and gave him medicines. I have returned some money and some of it is still left.
Life Story 1 as told to the Institute of Development Studies for their report 'Patterns and Dynamics of Slavery and Bonded Labour in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh: Findings from Life Story Analysis'