Slavery: A Truth in India?

Slavery: A Truth in India?


Isha Shahni

The Global Slavery Index 2013, compiled by non-profit Walk Free Foundation, presents quite a dismal picture about a

reality in India: Modern slavery. It estimates that 13.3 million to 14.7 million people are enslaved in India, exhibiting
the full spectrum of such rights violations. It is scary, heart-rending, exposes our underbelly and gives a peep into our
minds and the exploitative tendencies we have. Most of all, it depicts the feudalistic mindset we suffer from.

The reality smacks us in the face when we look at two figures reported within the report: One, the prevalence of

modern slavery is the fourth-highest in India. Two, in absolute terms the country enslaves the highest number of


In recent times, we have had debates on exploitation of domestic helps though none of us has had the courage to

look at our underbelly, the underlying attitudes or mindsets. One would be clearly horrified at hearing some incidents

and the treatment domestic helps are subject to (one will use the word servant further on, even though this IANS

columnist severely detests the usage).

The threats and issues servants would face include:

-Threat of being thrown out of the locality if a 16-hour daily schedule is not followed

-Not being allowed to drink water from the home kitchen

-Exposure to things being thrown at their faces

-Denial of using the elevator when the bosses or their children are inside

-Denial of simple comforts like use of the washroom or water heaters

-Denial of using the neighbourhood parks for their wards

-Denial of visits to tend to even emergencies in their homes at the cost of daily chores

Worse still, these ideas of discrimination are propagated through the kids in the house, as they are not told to respect

the individual who works at home.

Strangely enough, all the above incidents are also attributed to spouses of bureaucrats living within one single locality

in the Indian capital. The problem we discuss is something that is prevalent across the board in India and exemplified

by spouses of bureaucrats who end up exploiting the system far more then we can fathom or think of. This might not

be true for all, but even if it is a reflection of 20 percent of the officer-households then it is a scary reality.

India does have an act to protect the exploited, but it remains a piece of legislation and an ineffective tool. The impact

is limited as the perpetrator quite likely is the one who has the responsibility of serving and protecting the people in

the country. Put in a different way, it can be said that the law is ineffective since the exploited, most of the times, are

under servitude of an officer, a bureaucrat or a person who yields disproportionate power in the system and the

servants are too scared to complain.

One is not too sure if India or any Indian had thought at the time of independence that such would be the treatment

the citizens would be exposed and subject to. The disheartening idea here is that this treatment is no different from

the most horrific statements Indians had to live with pre-independence – Indians and dogs not allowed. The only thing

that could be the saving grace in this case is that we are now under the rule of a brown sahib if nothing else.

Let us not forget that people who are at our homes are individuals who need to be respected for what they contribute

and not shouted at or yelled at. It is rather individuals who shout or mistreat who have ended up becoming slaves to

their pathetic mindsets. The mindsets that can only fathom exploitation. Treating people like animals, thinking that

you have servitude rights over people and misdemeanor is clearly repulsive.

What matters here is how we set this exploitative tendency right and take immediate action or else the social

upheaval it may cause would be exceedingly difficult for anyone to control or handle.

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