Slavery is not a relic of the past, there are approximately 40 million people worldwide that live in some form of modern slavery. Unlike the widely visible slavery in the new world a few hundred years ago, modern slavery is less visible. South Asia is a hot spot for this form of slavery due to a unique confluence of poverty, social practices, and lax laws or enforcement. Bonded labor, a form of slavery is used in agriculture and manufacturing of a number of products we consume in the western world like coffee, carpets, electronics, and textiles
In the summer of 2022, I worked with a Non-Profit Organization called Jeevika which has freed over 30,000 bonded laborers in Karnataka, a southern state in India. Bonded labor happens when a person is forced to offer their work and services for almost no wages and there are restrictions on freedom of movement, threats, and verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. My goal was to understand why this form of slavery exists in a world that has officially recognized the importance of basic human rights for at least 50 years. I interviewed current and ex-bonded laborers. All of them were kind enough to let me into their modest homes and a number of them shared meals with me and my family as they narrated their stories. Some of the stories were painful. One of the bonded laborers I interviewed, Krishnappa, was falsely accused of stealing jewelry, tied to a tree, beaten for over a day, and tortured with needles piercing his fingertips.
The interviews, discussion with Jeevika, and research led me to realize that this is not an easy problem to solve. Most of the bonded laborers are from the lower caste. While better laws and better enforcement will be helpful. The landlords who employ these bonded laborers are considered respected members of society. Social norms and customs have to change if we are to eradicate this form of modern slavery and restore basic human rights and dignity to these people.
Jeevika has been working for 30 years to free the bonded laborers in the state by creating awareness about the issue, educating the bonded laborers, activism to provide justice to the exploited, advocating for better laws and enforcement, and facilitating education for the next generation.
I also realized that the issues faced by these bonded laborers are largely unknown to the people in the west. Which has meant insufficient funding for these causes. Covid has made this issue worse. I want to promote awareness of this issue and promote the cause Jeevika has passionately worked on for a number of years. Jeevika and its founder Kiran Prasad have won a number of national and international awards including - CNCDH –2020 (National Consultative Commission on Human Rights – France) Award, 2010 Harriet Tubman award, 2019 Mother Theresa Memorial Social Justice Award (Harmony Foundation, Mumbai). You can learn more at their website - https://jeevikafree.com/
Please help me raise money to help this important cause. Here is what your money can do for a bonded laborer
$10 (3 Starbucks lattes) - cover the cost of the yearly school supplies for one village child
$60: get a former bonded laborer one sheep
$100: cover the cost of a one-day capacity-building training for women self-help groups (leadership, accounting, organization-building)
$500: get a former bonded laborer 8 sheep to start a business