Annals of evil

The BBC’s Humphrey Hawksley reports on brutal physical abuse meted out to slaves in India.

Warning of horrors.

He starts with Dialu Nial getting his right hand chopped off.

Now free, and his injury healing, he is back home deep in the countryside of Orissa. There is no electricity or sanitation. Many of the villagers are illiterate.

“I didn’t go to school. When I was a child I tended cattle and harvested rice,” Nial says, sitting on the earth outside the cluster of huts which are his family’s home.

It is from communities like this that people are liable to be drawn into a system known as bonded labour.

Typically a broker finds someone a job and charges a fee that they will repay by working – but their wages are so low that it takes years, or even a whole lifetime. Meanwhile, violence keeps them in line.

Now he and his brother make a tiny amount of money by unraveling old plastic bags to make cord. He can’t do it very well, because of not having a right hand, so his brother is far more productive.

It was in early December that Nilamber, a friend from a nearby village told Nial about a job in brick kiln for which he would supposedly get 10,000 rupees ($165; £98) up front. It was all being organised by one of Nilamber’s neighbours, Bimal, who was trying out working as a broker.

Nial, Nilamber, Bimal, and 10 others travelled by bus to meet the main contractor.

“I knew he was a rich man. He had a motorcycle and wore a tie,” says Nial.

The contractor showed them the money, but took it straight back. They would not in fact get it up front, he said, but some time later. Nial nonetheless believed he would still be paid and agreed to work – although illegal, it meant he had technically taken the bond.

The men were taken the next day to the railway station at Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgargh state. Then, instead of being sent on a short journey to a brick kiln as they had been promised, they discovered the train was heading 500 miles (800km) south to Hyderabad, a thriving city and a pillar of India’s economic success. But some in the group had already heard stories about forced labour there, and got ready to rebel.

When the train stopped at a station, all except Nial and Nilamber escaped. Instead of continuing to Hyderabad the contractor took them back to Raipur, spending some of the journey on his mobile phone, arranging their reception.

“His henchmen were waiting for us,” recalls Nial. “They held us and put their hands over our mouths to stop us shouting.”

Notice that he hadn’t even been given any money yet, not so much as a penny. How did he possibly owe them anything? How didn’t he have every right to say “I never agreed to go to Hyderabad, I’m out”? Well he did of course; these “brokers” are just criminals.

Activists argue that the Indian government’s failure to protect people from forced labour, kidnapping, and other crimes amounts to a serious abuse of citizens’ rights.

“There are deep-rooted problems of business-related human rights abuse in India,” says Peter Frankental, Economic Relations Programme Director of Amnesty International UK. “Much of that involves the way business is conducted, an unwillingness to enforce laws against companies, and fabricated charges and false imprisonment against activists who try to bring these issues to light.”

Nial’s future is grim.


  1. Omar Puhleez says

    “Nial, Nilamber, Bimal, and 10 others travelled by bus to meet the main contractor.
    ‘I knew he was a rich man. He had a motorcycle and wore a tie,’ says Nial.”
    The contractor appears to have been one of India’s army of low-level crooks in the (elimination) race to become a Godfather of tomorrow. Many are called, but few are chosen.

    India, Pakistan and China were at about the same level of economic development at the end of WW2. Since then Pakistan has gone on to become a leading Islamic basket case, India has staggered about, hindered by this sort of multi-level corruption, and China has become the world’s greatest-ever industrial dynamo.
    One thing that can be said for the Maoists: they cleansed China of the hordes of such crooks, and gave it a basis for a decent start into today’s world.

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