In India, FTS works with:
- Manav Sansadham Evam Mahila Vikas Sansthan (MSEMVS)
- Pragati Gramodyog Sansthan (PGS)
- Punarnawa Ashram
- Tatvasi Samaj Nyas (TSN)
Slavery experts agree that, by comparison with other countries, India has the largest concentration of slavery in all its forms. Slavery in India, whether in sexual exploitation or other forms of labor, typically uses the mechanism of debt bondage, where slaves are psychologically chained to an illegal debt that they are forced to repay through their labor. If the psychological pressure fails, then slaveholders enforce debt bondage slavery through direct violence. Although FTS partners have rescued slaves held in chains, most Indian slaves can move around the village as long as the slaveholder controls their work and they do not attempt to leave.
This Village in India Recently Came to Freedom
See FTS Partner JEEVIKA in Action
Shool children at an anti-corruption demonstration organized by the Stonebreakers Federation.
| Residents at Belawar met with MSEMVS to explore ways out of bonded labor slavery. One explained, "Our frustration is that everyone is in slavery and we want to get out."
Through the mechanism of bonded labor, men, women, and children are forced to work in brick kilns, rice mills, construction, stonebreaking, agriculture, begging, domestic work, and embroidery factories – as well as in brothels and roadside red-light districts, now widely dispersed in the countryside. Forced and fake marriages are also now widely used as mechanisms for trafficking adolescent girls into domestic slavery and sexual exploitation.
FTS concentrates its work with local partners in two of India’s poorest states: Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Since 2001, it has enabled many government officials to become allies in the struggle against slavery and to understand the violent criminality of bonded labor slavery and sex slavery. Sadly though, at a national level and in many Indian states, officials still claim their areas are “bonded labor-free”, rather than undertake vital investigations of slavery. In the face of this official neglect, FTS has adopted a strategy of organizing the most affected communities to liberate themselves by challenging the slaveholders and traffickers, as well as demanding official raids to release individuals who cannot free themselves. Across over 400 communities, local residents are moving from passive acceptance of slavery and trafficking as “normal” to understanding their human rights and how to use collective, peaceful power to protect themselves – permanently ending slavery in their villages. Local anti-slavery activists are networking together across whole Districts so they can learn from each other and so that the government can no longer pretend slavery does not exist.
Above all, the strength of this work is the constant presence of frontline workers alongside those in slavery. Every day, these workers help people in slavery to gradually break down all the obstacles in their minds and in reality that keep them from freedom. They help them to make a final decision that they and their families have the right to a better life.
Our partner organizations:
Manav Sansadham Evam Mahila Vikas Sansthan (MSEMVS)
Based in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.
MSEMVS now gives regular support through over 40 field staff to 250 Community Vigilance Committees in 14 Districts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Its staff enters communities often through requests for rescuing a resident who has been trafficked, and then they use their effective work with that individual (or group) in order to create a Community Vigilance Committee (CVC). Through the CVC, residents learn how to access their entitlements, for example to food rations, right to work, health care, and functioning schools, as well as how to file legal cases and how to act against a broad range of violations of human rights. The CVC itself often becomes an additional base of support and protection for survivors who are pursuing legal cases.
In addition, MSEMVS identifies a smaller number of villages where bonded labor is particularly intense, affecting 15 – 25 families, and in those locations (currently 12) it provides a transitional school with mid-day meals and vocational training for older children and income generation training for most of the mothers. This combination of interventions enables the whole community to entirely dismantle long-term systems of slavery, often making this the first generation to emerge from the total control of the landowners. This strategy was recently reported on in a 3-episode CNN feature, showing a community still in slavery; one struggling against slavery; and a community that had entirely freed itself. (See the videos below. More videos of FTS in the media are here.)
MSEMVS builds the capacity of local CVC activists through holding meetings of networks of CVCs (usually attended by members of 6 – 10 CVCs) at District level. These are opportunities to share stories of work on particular issues by each group and for input by the staff to foster learning from these experiences. CVC networks advocate with District-level officials on issues affecting all the communities. (See the FTS short documentary, Triggering Hope (2009) above. More documentaries are here.)
Pragati Gramodyog Sansthan (PGS)
Based in Allahabad, U.P.
PGS is working to eradicate slavery among stone-breaking communities in U.P. Three generations ago, the Kol indigenous people migrated to an area near Allahabad to escape slavery in a neighboring state. Landless and destitute, they soon found themselves in debt-bondage slavery again, this time breaking rocks with hammers to produce building stones and silica sands. Thousands of workers in hundreds of villages remain burdened with illegal debts, forced to work in appalling conditions, without proper access to health care or education. Tuberculosis, malaria and silicosis are endemic.
According to Indian law, these families could simply walk away from the debts but until recently, this has been impossible: if they left the stone-breaking work, they would literally be free to starve. In this staggeringly impoverished rural area, there has been no other work for illiterate, landless and unskilled workers. Without access to legal protection and with little knowledge of their rights, families have been completely vulnerable to violent reprisals from the illegal slaveholding quarry contractors.
With consistent support from PGS, there is now growing determination among stonebreakers to find realistic solutions. PGS works by forming local Self-Help Groups (SHGs) with members who are currently enslaved, have just freed themselves, or are vulnerable to slavery. Currently, approximately 250 SHGs empower villages in slavery to stand up to their slaveholders and refuse the illegal debts that keep them enslaved. Groups generally develop collective savings and loans between their members, and they start small businesses to ensure sustainable freedom. PGS also helps laborers apply for their own quarrying leases, ensuring that as many as 60 families per lease can earn their own income. All of the groups have come together in a Federation so they can set priorities across villages, for example, improved access to health care and equal treatment for their children at local schools. Increasingly, enslaved villages are hearing about other villages becoming free and becoming inspired to make their own bid for freedom.
Based near Purnea, Bihar, and under management of MSEMVS.
Through all our partners in India there has emerged over the past 8 years a deep concern for the extreme violence, physical and emotional harm against girls and women trafficked into sex slavery. Through their work in impoverished source villages, they found that sex trafficking of women and girls was common and provisions for recovery were nonexistent. In response, FTS created a new shelter home in Bihar:
The ashram opened in February 2010 as a center for recovery and movement to independence for women and girl survivors of sex slavery. The ashram is an important step in the scale-up of our work in north India, providing a rights-based program for 25 – 45 women and girls at a time, with a 6 – 12 month stay. In addition to the on-going legal assistance and help in accessing economic entitlements that our partners have been providing, rescued women and girls receive shelter, emotional and psychological care, education, vocational skills training, and basic medical care. Residents and former residents will also be encouraged and supported to participate in advocacy on behalf of themselves and other trafficking survivors.
Based in Bangalore, Karnataka
JEEVIKA is the recipient of a 2010 Harriet Tubman Freedom Award. Find out more here.
The farm fields of India are one of the world’s worst spots for slavery. Trapped by phony debts, entire families have been enslaved for generations. JEEVIKA is a group that helps slaves understand their rights and free themselves from bondage. By standing together against powerful land owners and complacent public officials, slaves discover that freedom is possible.
JEEVIKA works in rural villages outside Bangalore, where the Dalits or “untouchable” castes have endured centuries of poverty and humiliation. Many Dalits are trapped in debt bondage slavery. They have borrowed small amounts from wealthy farm owners to pay for family emergencies. Then they have been cheated when exploitative landlords claim the debts have never been repaid. Families are forced to continue working off the loans, sometimes for generations. JEEVIKA estimates up to 500,000 people are in debt slavery in the Indian state of Karnataka.
In 2010, JEEVIKA won the FTS Harriet Tubman Freedom Award. Through our award grant funding, JEEVIKA has scaled up their successful model into 18 new Districts in Karnataka, where virtually no work has previously been done against bonded labor slavery.
Tatvasi Samaj Nyas (TSN)
Based in Bihar state
Tatvasi Samaj Nyas is a non-governmental organization that works to combat slavery and provide services that will ensure the long-term reintegration of slavery survivors. In collaboration with FTS and MSEMVS, TSN provides direct legal services to survivors of bonded labor slavery and sex trafficking, and also manages a shelter for girls and women who have survived trafficking in the commercial sex industry.