Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Independence is still a meaningless term for millions...

2009 will mark the completion of 62nd year of India’s independence – supposedly independence from slavery, destitution and imprisonment and all kinds of malaises. But then, the same can’t be iterated about many pockets of Indian population. Even after 62 years of Independence, millions across the nation do not feel the quintessence of the event. This day passes by just like another day, especially for millions of female population of the country. Amidst all pomp and show, this year, on Independence Day, around 2.8 million women would be still working as sex workers in India, with 35.47 per cent of them below 18 years of age while Human Rights Watch estimates the same to be around 15 million.

The chronicle does not condense here itself. The age-old practice of bonded labourers (which is not even part of Bollywood movies, anymore!) can still be traced in India. Almost 40 million people in India are working as bonded workers. Debts taken decades ago oft en construct an insurmountable impediment to freedom for these labourers. Most of them are working to pay-off debts that were incurred generations ago by their forefathers. A colossal percentage of bonded labour goes unnoticed, especially among girls who work from home. Bonded and child labour is no more a jaw-dropping story, especially in India. A huge pie of this population is employed in unorganised sector and in the agricultural and textile industries. As per 2003 Human Rights Watch study, around 60-115 million child workers exist in India. The famous Indian silk industry alone employs at least 350,000 children (majority of whom are bonded).

To make matters worse, the UNICEF website reports that 12.6 million children are engaged in hazardous occupations. Moreover, even the working condition of these bonded labours is one of the worst in the world. Child domestic workers labour up to fifteen hours a day with little break for less than Rs 500 per month. Deceitful creditors find it easier to retain labourers even after the initial amount of loan is extracted and exploit them further to uncertainty. The government has still not framed cohesive and effective policy regarding bonded labour. A few fortunate ones get liberated or escape this prisoners' lives, it is due to efforts by numerous NGOs. Otherwise most of them end up getting into prostitution or spend their entire left -over life on the roads due to lack of resources and rehabilitation facilities. Prison population, fake encounters and fake cases are no more a new phenomenon in India. However, a huge population of this over-prisoned population comprises undertrials. About 300,000 prisoners are awaiting trial, and make up whopping 70 per cent of the total jail population. Of this total undertrials, nearly 75 per cent have been in jail for several years. Going by various studies, most of the inmates end up spending much more time in jails as undertrials than they would have been spending post-conviction. In a whole lot of cases, people have been pushed (literally!) in to jail for petty crime only. To further curb their rights, undertrials are not even allowed to vote during elections.

Independence in true sense requires economic freedom and self-support. Rescuing a child from bondage and providing undertrials with freedom without recompense will actually be highly futile. These measures are fundamentally myopic and will lead to a further tragic conclusion! Hail another Independence Day and enjoy the holiday...


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