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Bonded Labor

Bonded Labor: Tackling the System of Slavery in South Asia

Siddharth Kara
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Bonded Labor
    Book Description:

    Siddharth Kara'sSex Traffickinghas become a critical resource for its revelations into an unconscionable business, and its detailed analysis of the trade's immense economic benefits and human cost. This volume is Kara's second, explosive study of slavery, this time focusing on the deeply entrenched and wholly unjust system of bonded labor.

    Drawing on eleven years of research in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, Kara delves into an ancient and ever-evolving mode of slavery that ensnares roughly six out of every ten slaves in the world and generates profits that exceeded $17.6 billion in 2011. In addition to providing a thorough economic, historical, and legal overview of bonded labor, Kara travels to the far reaches of South Asia, from cyclone-wracked southwestern Bangladesh to the Thar desert on the India-Pakistan border, to uncover the brutish realities of such industries as hand-woven-carpet making, tea and rice farming, construction, brick manufacture, and frozen-shrimp production. He describes the violent enslavement of millions of impoverished men, women, and children who toil in the production of numerous products at minimal cost to the global market. He also follows supply chains directly to Western consumers, vividly connecting regional bonded labor practices to the appetites of the world. Kara's pioneering analysis encompasses human trafficking, child labor, and global security, and he concludes with specific initiatives to eliminate the system of bonded labor from South Asia once and for all.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52801-6
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  6. 1 Bonded Labor: AN OVERVIEW
    (pp. 1-48)

    An elderly man named Ajay led me to his thatched hut to have a cup of tea.¹ We sat on mats in the dirt, amid his meager possessions and a small cot on which he slept. Dust, insects, and lizards abounded. I gave Ajay a bottle of water, which he heated in a dented pot over a small firepit dug into the ground. With shaky hands, he produced two small metal mugs. As we waited for the water to boil, Ajay rubbed his fragile legs. His skin was so brittle, I feared it would crack if he pressed any harder....

  7. 2 Agriculture: KAMAIYA AND HARI
    (pp. 49-77)

    Few people travel to the remote western Terai region of Nepal, home to the majority of the caste-based debt bondage in the nation. I only managed to venture there on my third visit to Nepal, having spent the previous two trips in the central and eastern portions of the country. Nepal is a strikingly beautiful land. Try to imagine two continents colliding into each other in a sixty-million-year-old shoving match. The result is Nepal, and the Terai is the narrow strip of gently sloping flat land that borders the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh to the south. Above the Terai,...

  8. 3 Bricks and Bidis
    (pp. 78-103)

    Fifty kilometers southwest of the holy city of Varanasi, India, I hiked through the searing summer heat deep into a remote area of numerous brick kilns. Standing up to two hundred feet high, the distinctive chimneys of the kilns lined the horizon in all directions. Sweat and dust combined to form a sticky paste over every inch of my skin. It was beyond reckoning how the brick kiln laborers could toil underneath the relentless summer sun for fourteen or more hours per day—and more unimaginable still how they could do so next to a kiln that was blazing with...

  9. 4 Shrimp and Tea
    (pp. 104-131)

    Flying into Dhaka during the monsoon season provides a breathtaking vantage of exactly what climatologists mean when they say that Bangladesh is ground zero for climate change. At least half the country appears to be underwater. The country itself sits just five feet above sea level and is located in the estuary of three large rivers—the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna. In addition to being struck regularly by cyclones, each monsoon season the majority of the water collected by the Himalayas in Nepal, northeastern India, and Bhutan washes through Bangladesh en route to the Bay of Bengal. Half the country...

  10. 5 Construction and Stone Breaking
    (pp. 132-157)

    In 1982, New Delhi was gearing up to host the Asian Games, an Olympicsstyle athletic competition for nations across Asia.¹ Several large construction projects were undertaken to erect new athletic and tourist facilities for the event. The manner in which a portion of this construction was achieved became the subject of one of the landmark Supreme Court cases in India relating to bonded labor:People’s Union for Democratic Rights vs. Union of India and Others, 1982. This case, also referred to as the “Asiad Workers” case, will be discussed in more detail in chapter 7, but the basic list of...

  11. 6 Carpets and Other Sectors
    (pp. 158-184)

    The “carpet belt” of northern India stretches across the state of Uttar Pradesh, from the town of Allahabad east to Bhadohi, ending in the rural reaches beyond Varanasi. The states of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh are also populated with carpet weavers, but the main region is in Uttar Pradesh. Here, countless huts, shacks, and small carpet “factories” in remote rural areas are filled with individuals who work fourteen to twenty hours a day painstakingly weaving knotted carpets by hand.¹ These carpets are purchased regionally and exported abroad. All of these weavers are poor, lowcaste peasants who are either paid a...

  12. 7 Bonded Labor and the Law
    (pp. 185-207)

    Efforts to regulate and abolish bonded labor and other forms of slavery in South Asia date back centuries. In the modern context, truly comprehensive efforts to do so largely commence with India’s Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976. Pakistan passed its Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act in 1992, and Nepal passed the Kamaiya Labour (Prohibition) Act in 2002. As of January 2012, Bangladesh still lacks a law that recognizes the existence of bonded labor, though it did pass a general unifying labor law in 2006, the Bangladesh Labour Act. Each country does have constitutional prohibitions against forced labor.¹

    To offer...

  13. 8 Tackling Bonded Labor
    (pp. 208-234)

    I had the honor of meeting the former chief justice of India, J. S. Verma, a few years ago in New Delhi. He gave me a copy of his book,The New Universe of Human Rights, and I had not read more than a few pages before I came across the sentence quoted above. It seemed so simple, yet this fundamental truth is so often overlooked in the complex pursuit of ensuring that all men, women, and children are assured their basic human rights. Defining “human dignity” may seem to be a challenge, but to me it signifies that person...

  14. Appendix A GLOBAL SLAVERY METRICS, 2011
    (pp. 235-246)
    (pp. 247-256)
    (pp. 257-260)
    (pp. 261-264)
    (pp. 265-270)
    (pp. 271-272)
  20. Notes
    (pp. 273-292)
  21. Works Cited
    (pp. 293-298)
  22. Index
    (pp. 299-314)