Bonded Labor in India
india.jpgBonded labor has been explicitly outlawed by the United Nations and yet millions of people all over the world are enslaved by it. India is one such country where bonded labor exists despite being legally abolished in 1976. Bonded laborers are forced to work only for their employer and do not have the option to work for anyone else. Any retaliation is countered using force and constant surveillance.
Debt plays a pivotal role in enslaving laborers to their employers. Despite the fact that bonded labor is illegal governments are rarely willing to enforce the law, or to ensure that those who profit from it are punished. "Widespread discrimination against some social groups means they have limited access to justice, education and ways to get themselves out of poverty which is one of the main reasons the debt is taken in the first place."[1] Laborers in desperate need of money are trapped by being offered loans at high interest rates. Failure to repay these loans results in working for very little or no pay for long hours and under abysmal conditions. The amount of work extracted from the laborers far exceeds the original sum of money borrowed. These debts carry on from one generation to the other.

Most people in rural India lack access to formal channels of credit and rely on local moneylenders who offer loans at unreasonable rates of interest. Plagued by lack of education, the bonded laborers are unaware of the laws and are invariably subject to coercion. The real challenge has been to get the information to vulnerable population and enable them to be cautious and seek help from the legal frame work to break out of the situation.
'Bandhua 1947'
download.jpgIn October 2012, ActionAid India, International Justice Mission, Adivasi Solidarity Council, JEEVIKA and Justice Ventures International launched a nation-wide campaign called “Bandhua 1947” to fight against the system of bonded labor in India . The campaign works towards the release and rehabilitation of bonded laborers by linking them to various government employment schemes. They also aim to provide legal support to the laborers to fight cases against their employers. The campaign provides awareness by organizing meetings with bonded laborers and providing them information regarding the laws against bonded labor and ensuring its implementation. The campaign also aired a 32 minute short film about bonded labor on the Lok Sabha Channel to help the issue gain nationwide coverage.

This top-down approach to the issue aims at modification and stricter implementation of laws. The advocacy campaign also includes an online petition addressed to the Union Minister of Labor and Employment urging the stronger enforcement of laws against bonded labor. The use of the online platform to mobilize support from the masses is effective in generating meaningful discussions and debates about the issue.
BBC Media Action

9316ea8b41bac3afabf78b74294d9005.jpegBBC media action undertook a program titled 'Reach and Response' to prevent bonded labor in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh by creating awareness. Statistics indicate that “with a combined population of around 250 million people, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh accounts for the highest occurrence of un-organized and indebted labor in India"[2] The program was initiated in May 2010 and was titled “Majboor Kisko Bola”(Who Are You Calling Helpless?) and uses community radio as a medium to disseminate information. This 36 episode radio program is an innovative approach to provide factual information- labor welfare, human rights, government employment schemes and the prevention of bonded labor.
Community Radio
Community radio is a means of “radio broadcasting with the objective of serving the cause of the community in the service area by involving members of the community in the broadcast of their programmes.”[3] Community radio captures India’s rich oral story-telling tradition and is one of the most effective medium to reach marginalized and vulnerable groups in rural areas. Many Indian villages still do not have access to electricity which makes the use of battery run community radio a viable and effective option. Community Radio enables enhanced participation and empowerment by mobilizing people to assemble together and use radio as a medium to gain awareness and look for solutions to their problems.

Structure of the showThe format of the radio show provides information coupled with entertainment to have better reach and acceptability. These 30 minute episodes that use colloquial and simple language, start with a bonded laborer narrating his/her story followed by a small drama to depict real life problems. The episodes also include interviews with bonded laborers, and experts in the field of labor rights, response of the audience and closes with a regional folk song. The program informs listeners about the trappings of labor contractors who do not possess any license and the ploys they use to mislead people in dire situations.
The first episode of Majboor Kisko Bola. Source: Youtube
The program also involves district based journalists to encourage active reporting about the issue and create awareness. Journalists play a pivotal role in mainstreaming the issues related to bonded labor. Throughout the project, journalists and implementing NGOs work together in a symbiotic relationship.[4]

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Source: BBC Media Action website
According to Malika Malhotra, a project manager with BBC Media Action, the greatest challenge for the project was, “reaching communities in some of India’s most remote villages,”[5] in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. BBC media action dealt with this problem by setting up 40 listener groups comprising of 10 members each. The members of the group include the poorest and oppressed sections of the society, community gatekeepers and heads of the Panchayats (village councils). These groups participate in discussions carried out by facilitators.
The use of community radio to spread awareness and information will be replicated across various other remote villages in India. BBC media action has started three new series across 100 villages in Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. In addition to the radio sets provided by the BBC, there will a conscious attempt to include a feedback section using basic mobile phones. Listeners who want information about bonded labor and have queries can give a missed call on a toll free number. They will then be called back and all required information and assistance will be provided.
Two phases are essential in addressing the problem of bonded labor- 1.) awareness 2.) empowerment. Community radio plays a pivotal role by getting people to assemble together to provide information and generate awareness. The use of community radio as a medium, in this case, does not impede formal face to face discussions. Instead, the radio works as a catalyst to initiate discussions and make valuable suggestions. This is one of the biggest positives of the design of the initiative. This campaign focuses on engaging and empowering some of the most vulnerable sections of Indian society. The complimentary role of mobile phones in the new phase of the project uses technology to empower people and get their voices heard.
InterviewEkta Tokas, Senior Projects Officer for "Majboor Kisko Bola", has been working on the project for the past two years and is now actively involved in the second phase of the initiative.

  • What is the main aim of a radio program like ‘Majboor Kisko Bola’?
The Project focuses on creating awareness along with its implementation partners that include 10 local NGOs mainly in socio-politically challenged areas in Bihar, U.P. and now Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. People who are victims, quite often, are unaware that they are bonded laborers. This program primarily creates awareness.
  • Why is community radio your chosen medium?
Community radio is a great example o simple technology that is cost effective. Radio is used to target these media dark regions and promote community wide dialogue. The radios are provided by BBC Media Action to two facilitators per village who ensure that they reach every villager by the end of the week.
  • Could you elaborate a bit on the use of mobile phones in the second phase of the program?
The second phase of the program also focuses on the feedback section. Villagers who have a mobile phone can give a missed call on a toll free number after which they will be contacted and given specific information about all the questions that they have.We are currently exploring the best way to incorporate the use of mobile phones for our program. We see huge potential for this medium.
  • What is the Village Listener model?
The first phase of the program used the Listener club model that had limited reach. The second phase is based on the Vilage Listener Model.This model is used to organize people into groups of 10- 20 villagers who listen to the radio program and then participate in the discussions that follow. The aim is to reach at least one member from each family per week. The radio show is played multiple times with different groups depending on the schedule of the villagers. Facilitators organize and oversee the proceedings and discussions of these groups.
  • What were the difficulties that you faced, as a team, while working on the project?
The most difficult aspect of the program was to find suitable partner organizations. We look at our partner organizations to implement the program on the field and provide appropriate support. Additionally, dealing with natural disasters and events such as elections posed some difficulties in implementing the program by slowing down our pace.

The program aims to reach marginalized groups that are plagued by ignorance and subject to extreme forms of exploitation. The video posted below captures the stories of a few such laborers.

Anecdotal evidence from a few beneficiaries of the program provides an insight into the impact. A video posted on the BBC media action website capture two such stories. A lady, whose nephew was a victim of bonded labor, explains that they were tricked by an agent who promised to find him and three other boys from the village, suitable employment in the city. These boys went missing for several months and the villagers were unaware of their whereabouts. Finally, after attending a session of ‘Majboor Kisko Bola’, they realized that these boys could be victims of bonded labor. They managed to rescue them with the help of the facilitator. Another man points out that, he was aware of the existence of bonded labor but was unsure about its features. He talks about being ignorant about the laws and redressal mechanisms for victims. He claims to have a better understanding of his rights and the laws after listening to Majboor Kisko Bola’s radio program.

The impact of the program is also evident from another video capturing two men articulating the benefits of the program. One of them acknowledges that the radio program generates self-confidence in the villagers and helps them resist falling prey to bonded labor. The second part of the video has a facilitator talking about the reach of the program to urban areas as well.

While anecdotal evidence can be very subjective, especially since it is posted on the website of the same organization, there is reason to believe that the program has had a positive impact. The use of community radio transfers the power back into the hands of vulnerable groups and arms them with information that would allow them to mobilize and protect themselves from succumbing to bonded labor.

The impact of the program in the three new villages- Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh remains to be observed based on the baseline and endline results at the end of the year.
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