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In India, bonded labour was prohibited by an ordinance passed in 1975 and later by law in 1976. The Gandhi Peace Foundation and the National Labor Institute conducted the first comprehensive study of bound labour between May and December 1978, and they estimated that there were 2.62 million bonded labourers nationwide. A study of 1000 communities across 10 states served as the basis for the projection. Scheduled Castes (SC) made up 61.5 per cent of the bonded labourers in the study, while Scheduled Tribes made up 25.1%. (ST)[1]. The International Labor Organization was founded in 1919, and India was one of its founding members. The ILO currently has 186 members. The ILO’s tripartite structure is one of its distinctive qualities.

India has ratified the following six conventions:

  1. Forced Labour Convention, 1930
  2. Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957
  3. Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951
  4. Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958
  5. Minimum Age Convention, 1973
  6. Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999


Due to the agricultural industry’s reliance on contractual, frequently migrant labourers, bonded labour was a common practice in rural regions of India. Agricultural production and the agrarian system are closely related. There was a greater need for intense cultivation in locations with sufficient rainfall and an excellent network of irrigation infrastructure, particularly in rice-growing areas in river deltas. Unfair agricultural arrangements were born in these regions. A significant majority of the labour force in these areas was landless, and many of them were “bonded” employees from the lowest castes.

The working poor were bound in “hereditary” labour links to landlords through the Jeeta system in Karnataka and the Halpati system in Gujarat (bonded labour). The working poor were considered bound labourers because of their dependence on the landed elite for political, social, and economic assistance due to a lack of resources. Many significant changes in social connections occurred in rural areas during the post-Independence era, particularly in those places that experienced the Green Revolution. The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 was passed by the Indian Parliament to end bonded labour in that country. The Bonded Labor System Abolition Act of 1976 gave the District Magistrates the power to implement it.


According to Articles 21 and Article 23 of the Constitution, bond labour is illegal in India. Only in 1976 was the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, a special statute, passed to outlaw the practice. First, the feudal social institutions that predominated in the countryside defined the economic and social character of bondage. The institution of bondage has taken on a more economic, but still exploitative, shape in recent years as a result of the abolition of feudal systems and the contractualization and casualization of labour[2], lack of statutory and constitutional protections may be the cause of bonded labour’s continuance in a nation; however, this is not the case in India. By outlawing all types of forced labour and trafficking, the Indian Constitution unequivocally guarantees the right against exploitation[3]. The origins and correlates of bonded labour in India have seldom been the subject of scientific analysis. The relationship between caste, social structure, and bondage on the one hand, and old feudal social ties and bonded labour on the other, has been underlined in studies of labour relations in the past[4].


Different forms of forced labor, slavery and captivity, and debt are defined and outlawed under the ILO Conventions on Forced Labor and other UN Conventions. The first ILO Forced Labor Convention, 1930 (No. 29), was enacted after the League of Nations Slavery Convention in 1926, and India ratified it in 1951. The Supreme Court has clarified the scope of “bonded labor,” which is prohibited by the 1976 Act, in several rulings, including the Asiad Workers’ Case (1982)[5] and the Bandhua Mukti Morcha Case[6]. Bonded labor can be tackled by addressing the root causes, eliminating the conditions that perpetuate bondage, and effective implementation the law, says experts present at the National Consultation on Bonded Labor organized jointly by the Ministry of Labor and Employment (MoLE) and the International Labor Organization (ILO). Bonded labor in India is abolished by law but persists, though the forms of bondage have changed. A center of expertise for implementing Decent Work for sustainable social and economic development in South Asia is the ILO Decent Work Technical Support Team (DWT) for South Asia and the Country Office for India in New Delhi. The Office develops partnerships to successfully encourage ILO values and ideals in support of the work programs of the ILO Country Offices in the South Asia sub-region. It offers expertise, highly professional, and expert advice to multilateral core supporters in the Member States on a wide range of issues.


As per the Global Slavery Index, India has a dismal track record of upholding anti-slavery laws. The primary culprits are a lack of funding for the judiciary and police departments. The extent of bonded labor has, however, expanded throughout the period, as has the effect it has on the lives of people. Human traffickers occasionally entice people from rural regions, especially Dalits, and compel them against their will to work as factory employees or in brothels. Strict efforts must be made to ensure that area committees established by Section 13 of the Legislation do not become inactive, and special care must be taken to ensure that committee members are alert to the rising threat of bonded labor.

To guarantee that governmental and nonprofit groups work together, enough attention must be placed on how well they perform. The government is in a position to uphold the rules, since it has the power, the means, and the knowledge to do so. Non-governmental groups have the local contacts to alert the appropriate government officials to any legal violations. To execute the current law of The Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act, 1976, and other fundamental obligations, it is also important to develop and implement a time-bound action plan.

Author(s) Name: Shreya Patel (The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Faculty of Law)


[1] Ravi S. Shrivastava, “Bonded Labor in India: Its incidence and pattern” <WP43 – Bonded Labour in India.PDF (> accessed on 16th June, 2022.

[2] Jan Breman (1996), Footloose Labour: Working in India’s Informal Economy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. < REVIEW Jan  Breman. Footloose Labour: Working in India’s Informal Economy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. | Economic Development and Cultural Change: Vol 47, No 2 ( > accessed on 16th June, 2022.

[3] Shikha Sethia, ‘Bonded Labours : The Changing Nature of Bonded Labor in India’, Article 23, Constitution of India, 1950. < The-Changing-Nature-of-Bonded-Labour-in-India.pdf ( > accessed on 16 June, 2022.

[4] Ravi S. Shrivastava, “Bonded Labor in India: Its incidence and pattern” <WP43 – Bonded Labour in India.PDF (> accessed on 19th June, 2022.

[5]  People’s Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India AIR 1982 SC 1473.

[6]  Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India & Ors (1997) 10 SCC 549