Bonded Labor

Bonded labor is a system in which a person provides labor in order to pay off debts. It was prevalent in certain districts of eastern Terai as ‘Haruwa’ and ‘Charuwa’ and ‘Tiller or Haliya’ and ‘Kamaya’ system of bonded labor in Western Nepal . Bonded labor are mostly prevailed in domestic works, brick kilns, embroidery workshops, teashops, and small restaurants. Often the so called low caste Dalits and minority ethnic groups, especially Tharus have been the major victims of bonder labor practices. For decades, they have been the victims of various suffrage with humiliated condition, without dignity of labor, and fundamental human rights. Thus, a freed bonded labor movement, particularly in the name of freed Kamaiya, paved the path for a socio-political movement to bring change in the existing complex societal structure
Kamaiya system had originated in Nepal before 1951. Before the eradication of malaria, Terai had high cultivable land with relatively low population. During those days, when a working man or woman would die, there was a trend of hiring a man or woman from another family to compensate the loss of labor. Gradually this practice over the time, turned into Kamaiya System. Some scholars argue that after the eradication of malaria from Terai, large number of hilly people migrated to Terai and gradually owned the land of Tharu through state centrism and they became the one proactively initiate Kamaiya system. In most cases, Kamaiya were physically and mentally tortured and exploited, treated like animals without freedom, proper food and clothes, fix working hours and their whole family members are devoted for their owner throughout their life. Thus, to liberate from these suffrage, Kamaiya movement started protesting initially after post democracy in 1950 and then gained a good momentum after the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1990.
In May 2001, 19 Kamaiya in Kailali district filed a case at District Administration Office (DAO) demanding the provisions of minimum wages, cancellation of debts and adequate housing, land and personal security. However, their demands were not taken seriously by the DAO. Later this refusal gained a height in the form of larger bonded labor movement and spread into several other districts in Mid and Far Western Nepal where larger number of Kamaiya were residing. This movement was also backed up by different human rights NGOs and international organizations active in the country. On 13 July, 2000 more than 150 bonded labors organized ‘Dharna’ (sit in) in Bhadrakali, Kathmandu, in front of Singha Durbar, which further contributed to escalate the Kamaiya movement with more wider scope. Eventually, this put pressure the then government to abolish the Kamaiya system completely on 17 July 2000. Subsequently, government also introduced an Act in 2002 through which all taken loans by former Kamaiya were made null and void. Kamaiya bonded labor have also received land as a part of government’s rehabilitation efforts in reducing their vulnerability to return to the cycle of bonded labor . However, there is still widespread criticism that ex- Kamaiya and other bonded labors are still deprived of adequate settlements, livelihood, services, and representation.
Further, Haliya system of bonded agriculture was eliminated by the Labor and Employment policy 2005. 20,000 people were freed from haliya practice. It was attempt to protect the Dalit minorities from being slavery in Nepal. They were predominantly Dalit. Usually it was practiced in the Western Hills of Nepal as seasonal labors. They have to work as haliya to pay off loans to their money lender land owners .
To conclude that human Rights activists suggest that bonded labor still exists in Nepal in various forms despite government’s efforts to its elimination. In this regard, it is an imperative to identify those hidden forms of bonded labor with the adaptation of adequate policies and programs to take them out of vicious cycle of bonded labor system.