Bonded Labour System in India

Bonded labour is a form of slavery. India is one of the countries where this bonded labour is majorly linked with caste and religion where 80 percent of the bonded labours are Dalits and Adivasis[1]. There is a huge relation between the caste and the occupation of the people here in India.

The system of bonded labour can be defined as an obligation that is majorly related to any debt or any customary obligation. The first category of b labour is when a person borrows some money by promising to return it but he can’t repay it, it is a usual matter where the labourer is bonded by his debt to an employer and wouldn’t be able to come out of his debt, therefore he becomes a bonded labourer. The second type of bonded labour obligation is the customary obligation. In this type of bonded labour, the family of the labourer and his ancestors are labouring for a person. It becomes worse when labourers are forced to work for them, this kind  generally happens in the agricultural sector, stone quarries, forestry, bricks kilns, construction sides and fishing. It is one of the human violations as it makes people helpless, and they have to work for their master without their free will and they also have to suffer. It is an obstacle in a way to development for a developing country as it curtails the freedom of people and suppresses them and limits their self development economically as well as mentally.

The Parliament of India at the time of Independence had not enacted any separate law for bonded labour but it was added in the fundamental right of the Indian Constitution. States like Rajasthan and Kerala have enacted laws which provide penalties for the violation of this act but there is no flexibility in those laws. In 1976, the Parliament enacted the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 with the object to criminalize the bonded labour and to prevent economic exploitation of weaker section people and to help them to get rid of any physical exploitation. The judiciary of India has also played a very important role in protecting the rights of people and has played a major role in implementing this act.


Under the 1976 Act, bonded labour is defined as a “labourer who incurs or has, or is presumed to have incurred a bonded debt”.- Section 2(f) of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976. According to the Act, a labourer who is under obligation to pay a debt and is not able to pay the debt, therefore he is providing his services by himself for an unspecified time with minimal wages or without wages.

Constitutional Philosophy 

Before independence, the system of bonded labour was widespread in India, the weaker section of society was deprived of basic rights due to rampant casteism. After independence, the Constitution of India was made which includes different provisions in different chapters. Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy are the provisions that are in the interest of every citizen and provided equally. The Constitution of India framed Fundamental Rights like Article 14 which states that every citizen of India is equal before the law, Article 21 provides the right to life, Article 23 prohibits trafficking in human beings and all other forms of bonded labour.

The Directive Principles of State Policy chapter of the Constitution of India contains provisions like Articles 39(e), 39(f), 41 and 42, which put an obligation and duty on the State to protect the health and strength of workers, men, and women, children from any kind of exploitation. These principles also compel the state to make good working conditions for human beings and should include educational facilities for all the people, so that the people can live with dignity.

Importance of the Bonded Labour(Abolition) Act, 1976

The Act has great importance for the weaker section of society, who are forced to be bonded labourers. The definition clause of the Act defines ‘bonded labour’ and ‘bonded labourer’. It has given a precise definition of all aspects of bonded labour. The bonded labour system is defined under Section 2(g) of the Act. Section 4 abolishes the system of bonded labour, and Section 5 makes agreements that relate to any customs or traditions of bonded labour void ab initio.

Chapter 3 of the Act deals with the extinguishment of liability to repay bonded debt. It contains Sections 6, 7, 8, and 9 which free the bonded labourer from any liability that makes them bonded labourer. Chapter 4 deals with appropriating authorities that have such power, duty, and authority to deal with cases under this Act and Chapter 5 deals with implementing authorities and their functions.

Chapter 6 deals with the offences and procedure for trial of the cases related to bonded labour. It provides fines as well as punishments for the wrongdoer, and also for the abettor who forces a person to endure bonded labour.

International Framework 

The following are some of the important International Conventions which prohibits bonded labour systems:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 has Article 4 which declares that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade should be prohibited in all their forms.” 

Slavery and slave trade in all forms has been prohibited by Article 8 of the International Convent on Civil and Political Right, 1966.

Article 6 of the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural rights, 1966 recognizes the rights which mentions the favorable conditions in which a person wants to work and these rights include the right of everyone to choose their occupation or reject any work.

Lastly, the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1975 prohibits any labour which is made by coercion politically or as a punishment, and it is forced labour which is against the views of the government.

Landmark Case Laws

Neeraj Chaudhary v. State of Madhya Pradesh[2] 

It is one of the famous cases where the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India held that whenever a bonded labourer is released from his labour, he should get a good rehabilitation because without rehabilitation he will face poverty and will become helpless.

Sanjit Ray v. State of Rajasthan [3]

In Sanjit Ray v. State of Rajasthan, the Supreme Court restricted the State from extracting labour by paying less than the minimum wages in the name of public utility services, considering such amounts to forced labour and is violative of Article 23 of the Constitution. Therefore, labourers must be compensated with wages even when they are under law compelled to render service in the larger public interest.


As discussed earlier, the main issue behind the problem of bonded labour is poverty and the caste structure. By the establishment of law, the problem of bonded labour has been almost tackled but there is still a lot of struggle for some bonded labourers who don’t know their rights. The National Human Rights Commission has always been pressurizing the government of India that they should have a good rehabilitation policy for bonded labourers and should do surveys regularly[4]. Even the Constitution of India have provided the rights and principles for the problem of bonded labour, to stop this crime our legislature has made many laws criminalizing it, and labelling it as a crime, but in society, it still prevails, and therefore we need to change the mindset of the people and the administrative authority should also implement laws strictly. Hence, we can say that making a legislature and implementing it, both have a difference which can be overcome by citizens and administrative authority.


[1] Utsa Patnail and Manjari Dingwaney, Chains of Servitudes : Bondage and Slavery in India, (Sangam Books, Hyderabad, 1st edn., 1983).

[2] AIR 1984 S.C. 1099.

[3] 1983 I L.L.J. 220.

[4] PTI, “14,614 bonded labour cases from 1993 to January 2017: NHRC”, India Times, 14 February 2017, available at: (last visited on 1st November 2020). 


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