You are hereCNN: Generations pay off debts through slavery

CNN: Generations pay off debts through slavery


March 8, 2011- An army of workers, their faces encrusted with dust, toils beside a story-high pile of unfired bricks. They are helping build a new India that appears to be leaving them behind.

From sunup to sundown they spend their time pouring wet mud into molds, lugging them to the kiln, firing them and then pulling them out. For their backbreaking work, they do not receive wages.

They are working to pay off a debt.

In India they are known as bonded laborers, bound to those who gave them or their forefathers an advance or a loan. Human rights advocates call them modern day slaves.

"I cannot leave here unless I pay my debt," said Durgawati, a mother of three.


A contractor had approached Durgawati and her husband, offering them work in a far-off village. He had said there were plenty of opportunities and offered to pay an advance to prove it. Desperate to make a living and with no work in sight where they lived, they leapt at the chance and took the 1000-rupee ($22) advance, she said.

The contractor found them work, but now, the family said they were trapped.

"I have to make a thousand bricks per day," Durgawati said. "It's the most difficult thing. We are given big pieces of soil, then we have to break it. Then we make it into a dough. Then we knead the soil."

She and her husband aren't the only ones in the family working. Their eldest daughter is nearly as fast as the adults at molding the earth into bricks. She is just five years old.

The family said they have not received wages since arriving three months ago. None of them has any idea how much they are owed. They said they have never been shown a balance sheet and couldn't read it anyway. They are illiterate and desperate to make a living.

They do get a small food allowance but say it barely feeds them. Still, the family wouldn't dare leave the worksite that doubles as their living quarters.

"They will beat me if I try to leave," Durgawati said.

Dozens of families are in the same predicament. They are all oblivious to the fact that bonded labor is illegal in India. The legislation has been in place for decades, but enforcement is lax.

"They have to work and repay the loan. They keep working," said Arun Singh, their supervisor. "We have an agreement."

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