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Confined, beaten and denied leave - but not seen as a slave in India

Bonded labour is India's most prevalent form of slavery, with about 18 million people working without pay in fields, brick kilns, rice mills, brothels or as domestic workers to repay debts to unscrupulous employers and moneylenders.

The practice was outlawed in 1976, and victims who are freed and officially identified as bonded labourers receive release certificates that entitle them to cash compensation, jobs and housing, which are critical to rebuilding their lives.

Millions of others are also subjected to forced labour, where they are deceived or coerced, and India's top court has repeatedly ruled that the 1976 bonded labour law also applies to such victims.

Labour rights campaigners say tens of thousands of modern-day slaves struggle to be recognised and get the benefits which they are legally entitled to, leaving them in poverty and at risk of being exploited again. Although thousands of victims of modern slavery are freed each year in India, the labour ministry said it only processed about 2,300 release certificates in the 12 months up to the end of March 2019.

Tens of thousands of slavery survivors in India who were confined, abused and exploited at work are denied compensation because officials are often ignorant of the law - with police sending 60 workers they rescued home empty-handed this week. Police in the western state of Gujarat who freed 94 workers - including 12 children - from a chemical factory last week said they mistakenly thought compensation was only paid to ex-slaves who were working to pay off a debt - known as bonded labourers.

The Gujarat police said they arrested three people and charged the factory owner with forced labour as the workers were beaten, denied leave, had to work when they were unwell and had their movement restricted.

The rescued workers said contractors had visited their villages in the northeastern states of Nagaland and Assam and eastern West Bengal and promised them "easy jobs".

"It was nothing like what we were told. I worked there for four years, but was not allowed to go home even once," said Austin Mach, 22, who worked 12-hour shifts packing pesticides at the factory, which made him dizzy and nauseous.

Copyright: BBC World Service


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