May 30, 2019
In Episode 5 of Series 4, we talk to Pradeep Narayanan
Director-Research & Capacity Building and Anusha
Chandrasekharan (Senior Programme Manager - Communications)
from Praxis, an India-based not-for-profit organisation which
works to democratise development processes and institutions in
order to ensure that the voices of the poor are heard and acted
00.00 – 3.39
- Praxis is a
development organisation based in India, aimed at supporting poor
and marginalised communities.
- It works with the most marginalised communities who would
otherwise be excluded such as the “dalit”communities,
and particularly dalit women, on matters which are important to
- 17% of the Indian population are dalit(untouchables), which is
the lowest category of people in the Indian caste system.
- Although it is easy to gain access to these communities in both
rural hamlets and urban slums, the challenge is to how to get their
concerns in front of policy makers.
- Referred to as ground level planning, a range of methods are
used; participatory video, digital media and face to face meetings
with policy makers.
3.40 – 12.10
The discussion moves on to describe the relationship between the
dalit and higher caste groups in relation to bonded labour and
forms of modern slavery.
- Modern forms of slavery in India have emerged from the caste
system where high caste landowners engaged dalit as bonded labour.
The dalit were effectively indentured to landowners, working on the
land and receiving various forms of payment.
- This practice was abolished by
The Bonded Labour Act 1976.
- Urbanisation has led to significant numbers of dalit living in
underserved settlements or slums, seeking work in manufacturing
industry in the city.
- They are vulnerable to exploitation and a system has evolved
very similar to traditional bonded labour whereby money is advanced
to the poor and marginalised, who then are obliged to work to pay
off the debt.
- The very poor are vulnerable because they do not have easy
access to cheap or safe credit and so cannot cope with emergencies
that may arise, for example ill health, or other expenses such as
weddings, funerals, and at festival times. Employers’ agents take
advantage of the situation to advance money to vulnerable families
who are then required to “work off” the loan. This involves long
hours, bad working conditions, physical and sometimes sexual abuse
- There are also instances of people not being paid for their
work; e.g. the
- The workers are not free to leave. Employers operate via a
climate of fear and intimidation which is used to control the
- Working with the labourers is challenging because they are in
fear of the employers, and unwilling to speak about their situation
or even to accept that they are in bondage.
09.55 – 14.20.
At this point a link is made with
research by Austin Choi Fitzpatrick, who writes of
a cultural acceptance of debt bondage in the villages,
which is also borne out by the experience of the speakers.
This acceptance on the part of the labourers creates a situation
whereby labour exploitation can occur. The question is how to
change the labourer’s awareness of their situation. Praxis is
working with Freedom
Fund on a programme which involves;
- The formation of an action research group within a community
which collects case study information, identifies what drives debt
bondage, for example health, and works with the group to understand
the link between poor health and bondage.
- The collection of evidence within and outside the group leads
on to discussion, and the group are able to define what they
understand by the term bonded labour and to relate it to examples
of bonded labour within their local community.
- Once the group have identified examples of bonded labour the
next step is to encourage action at the local level, which may be
in terms of questioning traditional attitudes and practices and
14.20 – 17.17
The discussion now moves on to review the outcomes of the
interventions made by Praxis. The main outcomes are:
- At the local level the development of action groups and raising
community awareness is moving people out of debt bondage. However,
on its own this does not offer the poor a viable alternative.
- There is very little data on bonded labour. Consequently, it is
difficult to get policy makers to address the issue. Work with the
Freedom Fund initiative feeds into this issue and is helping to
- They are seeking to re-open the discussion on the Bonded Labour
Act 1976 to develop discourse with the government.
- They also want the focus to move away from citizen – state, and
to broaden the focus to include major businesses and in particular
the supply chains of those businesses.
- Praxis is a partner in Corporate Responsibility
Watch which monitors the top 100 Indian businesses looking
a number of indicators including their supply chains to see how
compliant they are with labour laws, whilst at the same time
influencing government policy.
- This is, however, a slow, incremental process.
17.17 – end
Todd reflects on the work of Amartya Sen on
democracy and famineand wonders whether in the world’s largest
democracy whether a similar argument could be applied to debt
bondage and bonded labour.
The situation in India presents a number of constraints.
- The democratic process, although not broken, is flawed.
- Whilst current laws list basic entitlements which should be
open to all this is not the case
- Two related issues are; getting the government to look
seriously at the links between poverty, social rights, and bonded
labour, and also to be able to hold government to account.
- A further constraint is that, in this multi-cultural society,
development is not yet seen as the sole issue to be addressed.
- Removing the barriers to achieving basic rights is the key
because it is the barriers which cause vulnerable communities to
become trapped into bonded labour in the first place.