Photo credit: Danish Ismail/Reuters

Bonded Labor Verdict Creates a Buzz in India

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Forced LaborLaw & Policy

Survivors of bonded labor at a rock quarry in Tamil Nadu state are welcoming a stiff sentence for their former employers.

It’s a rare victory in India, where campaigners say only 2% of bonded labor cases result in convictions.

The court found three men —the owner and managers of the quarry — guilty of using violence, intimidation and debt bondage to force people to work in the quarry in Tiruvannamalai district, and sentenced them each last week to 11 years and nine months in prison.

“We didn’t even think our case against the owner of the quarry would be registered to begin with,” said Pachayamma Arul, one of the survivors.

“But we wanted to try, and we wanted justice,” she said.

Thomson Reuters Foundation reports:

Arul was rescued with 30 other labourers in 2012, after spending nearly four years in bondage, working alongside her husband to pay off a loan of 15,000 Indian rupees ($202.58).

“This verdict has created a buzz in and around our villages,” said Arul, who is on a local committee set up to look out for bonded labour.

“People are talking about it and I hope that awareness results in other owners being fair to their workers.”

Thousands of bonded labourers are freed each year, but most cases are not registered with officials and police fail to investigate many that are, according to campaigners who say that makes it hard for survivors to get assistance to rebuild their lives.

In response to a public interest litigation filed in the Delhi High Court, police said recently that of the 192 cases of bonded labour registered in the city in the last five years, only three ended in convictions.

Aditi Gupta, a lawyer with the Human Rights Law Network who filed the litigation, noted that, “It shows that in all the other cases, victims are still waiting for their compensation since it is linked to convictions.”

Until now, those accused of bonded labor were made to sit in court for one full working day and fined a small amount, said Kuralamuthan Thandavarayan from International Justice Mission, an anti-trafficking charity.

“That was the punishment along with a small fine,” he explained.

“The verdict in this case has definitively changed that precedent and paved the way for ensuring real justice for victims.”

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