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Bonded Labour in Three Districts of Karnataka, India: Prevalence and Migrant Labourers’ Experiences

A field research prevalence study on Bonded Labour was launched by Justice M. N. Venkatachaliah, former Chief Justice of India. The study by IJM was conducted in Bengaluru Urban, Bengaluru Rural and Ramanagara districts in 2015.

The need for a study was felt because the scale of Bonded Labour in India is under-reported, largely undocumented and unknown. IJM conducted the research study as a first step to provide reliable data on bonded labour to address this gap beginning with the three districts in Karnataka. In 2018, the study was peer reviewed and published in the International Journal of Human Trafficking.

The research study used a mark-recapture method to estimate the number of bonded labourers in the three districts by interviewing labourers at different market places. Once they arrived at the number of bonded labourers, based on the answers of the labourers to several questions posed by the researchers, this number was further extrapolated, keeping in mind the total number of labourers in the three districts, to arrive at an estimated number of bonded labourers in the three districts.

4,306 labourers were surveyed between April and June 2015 across Bangalore Urban, Bangalore Rural and Ramanagara districts. The study captured data on 15 distinct industries across 3,765 worksites where manual labour takes place. The study also included interviews with 39 labourers currently living outside the targeted study districts (in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka), who had migrated into Karnataka in the last three years for employment opportunities.

Based on the findings from the interviews, the study extrapolated that from an estimated total number of 16,70,734 labourers in the three districts, 5,58,334 or 33.4% could be bonded labourers. About 40% of those surveyed are in bondage in brick kilns, fish farms, plantations, rock quarries, rice mills, tobacco, and “other” industries. There was evidence of trafficking in 59.3% of the bonded labourers. Interviewed labourers were locals or had migrated from within the state and across the country to the three districts surveyed but 44.1 percent of labourers surveyed were from Karnataka. 92 percent of labourers surveyed belonged to SC/ST communities.

50.5 percent bonded labourers originating from Karnataka were being paid below minimum wage while 36.6 percentage of bonded labourers worked all seven days a week. Migrant workers were more likely to have been trafficked than non-migrants and 79.5% of migrant labourers had taken an advance under the condition that they would migrate out of the state to work at the factory until the advance was paid back (64.1% of these were illiterate so it was unclear whether they understood the terms of their employment.)

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