India has a population of more than 1.3 billion people, there are still at least 270 million people living on less than US$1.90 per day. While laws, systems and attitudes regarding key 'fault lines' such as the caste system, gender and feudalism are rapidly changing, social change of this depth and scale necessarily takes time. In this context, it is perhaps unsurprising that existing research suggests that all forms of modern slavery continue to exist in India, including intergenerational bonded labour, forced child labour, commercial sexual exploitation, forced begging, forced recruitment into nonstate armed groups and forced marriage.
Sunita was 14 when she was forced to marry and move to live with her new husband. Sunita tells of her husband’s poor economic condition and how they have had to borrow money for events such as marriages and funerals. As a result, Sunita herself must work for daily wage labour and her son has had to leave school to work. However, Sunita tells of how their employers often withhold wages which means they have been unable to pay of their debts.
I am Sunita, aged 35 and I was born in a poor Musahar family. When I was quite young, I lost both my parents that left us in great difficulty in meeting the ends. We were two of us - brother and sister. Both of us worked to earn our livelihood. I grazed our goat and cooked food, while my brother cut wood. Whatever he got from his wood-cutting, was the only income for us to run our household.
When I was about 14, my brother got me married with Kari Manjhi of Ghurghura and I came over to live with my husband. The economic condition of my husband’s household was also not good. Four-five years after my marriage, I gave birth to our eldest son. Gradually, we got two more sons and a daughter. We are so poor that it often becomes difficult to have two square meals. My husband is a labourer on a tractor and his wage from it is the income that sustains us all. He gives me Rs.300-400 on every 3-4 days and I have to run the household within this limit.
The elder brother of my husband is no more. His wife remarried and went away to live with him. They had a daughter who lived with us, in whose marriage we had to borrow Rs. 20,000 on Rs.4% monthly interest. My husband repays the loan, but how much has he repaid, I know not. After this marriage, my mother-in-law died, and again, we had to borrow Rs. 8,000 from the moneylender on Rs.5% monthly interest.
My eldest son, Shyam, was not taking interest in his studies, so we sent him to work with the contractor in a hotel. The contractor took him with him assuring us a monthly wage of Rs. 1,000 but, four years have passed and he has not given a single paisa to us. He had given us Rs. 1,500 while taking my son with him. My son works in Sundar Misthann Bhandar in Parihar and has not come even once in these four years. Whenever we go to the hotel owner to demand money, he assures us to give it, but he never gives it. The dues on him over these four years have accumulated to be a large amount for us, and had he given it to us, all our loans would have been repaid.
I, too, go to do wage labor in the fields for sowing, weeding and harvesting. If paid in kind, I am given 5kg of cereal and, if in kind, it is Rs.100. My husband also goes for sowing. In our village, there are only a few farmers and a large number of labors resulting in low wages. I have taken a goat for rearing from its owner. When it would give birth to kids, the price fetched will be divided half-half between us both. We do not have our own land. Our hut is on Government land.
Only if we had the money earned by our son, we would have been far happier.
Life Story 2 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'