Section 2

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Coercive, unfair or deceptive recruitment Debt bondage Forced labour

Section 2 provides the definitions of key terms such as ‘bonded debt’, ‘bonded labourer’, and ‘bonded labour system’.

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Section 2. Definitions. – In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires, —

a) “advance” means an advance, whether in cash or in kind, or partly in cash or partly in kind, made by one person (hereinafter referred to as the creditor) to another person (hereinafter referred to as the debtor);

(b) “agreement” means an agreement (whether written or oral, partly written and partly oral) between a debtor and creditor and includes an agreement providing for forced labour, the existence of which is presumed under any social custom prevailing in the concerned locality.

Explanation. –The existence of an agreement between the debtor and creditor is ordinarily presumed, under the social custom, in relation to the following forms of forced labour, namely: Adiyamar, Baramasia, Basahya, Bethu, Bhagela, Cherumar, Garru-galu, Hali, Hari, Harwai, Holya, Jana, Jeetha, Kamiya, Khundit-Mundit, Kuthia, Lakhari, Munjhi, Mat, Munish system, Nit-Majoor, Paleru, Padiyal, Pannayilal, Sagri, Sanji,Sanjawat, Sewak, Sewakia, Seri, Vetti;

[…]

(d) “bonded debt,” means an advance obtained, or presumed to have been obtained, by a bonded labourer under, or in pursuance of, the bonded labour system;

(e) “bonded labour” means any labour or service rendered under the bonded labour system;

(f) “bonded labourer” means a labourer who incurs, or has, is presumed to have, incurred, a bonded debt;

(g) “bonded labour system” means the system of forced, or partly forced, labour under which a debtor enters, or has, or is presumed to have, entered, into an agreement with the creditor to the effect that,–

(i) in consideration of an advance obtained by him or by any of his lineal ascendants or descendants (whether or not such advance is evidenced by any document) and in consideration of the interest, if any, on such advance, or

(ii) in pursuance of any customary or social obligation, or

(iii) in pursuance of an obligation devolving on him by succession, or

(iv) for any economic consideration received by him or by any of his lineal ascendants or descendants, or

(v) by reason of his birth in any particular caste or community, he would–

(1) render, by himself or through any member of his family, or any person dependent on him, labour or service to the creditor, or for the benefit of the creditor, for a specified period or for an unspecified period, either without wages or for nominal wages, or

(2) forfeit the freedom of employment or other means of livelihood for a specified period or for an unspecified period, or

(3) forfeit the right to move freely throughout the territory of India, or

(4) forfeit the right to appropriate or sell at market value any of his property or product of his labour or the labour of a member of his family or any person dependent on him, and includes the system of forced, or partly forced, labour under which a surety for a debtor enters, or has, or is presumed to have, entered, into an agreement with the creditor to the effect that in the event of the failure of the debtor to repay the debt, he would render the bonded labour on behalf of the debtor;

[…]

(i) “nominal wages”, in relation to any labour, means a wage which is less than,–

(a) the minimum wages fixed by the Government, in relation to the same or similar labour, under any law for the time being in force, and

(b) where no such minimum wage has been fixed in relation to any form of labour, the wages that are normally paid, for the same or similar labour, to the labourers in the same locality;

[…]

Law / India / Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976

The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 provides for the abolition of the bonded labour system, with a view to preventing the exploitation of vulnerable sections of society.

This Act prohibits, criminalises and extinguishes any system of debt bondage, whether by agreement, custom or contract. The Act aims to achieve the following: (i) every bonded labourer is discharged from any obligation to provide such labour; (ii) the obligation to repay any bonded debt is extinguished; (iii) the property of bonded labourers shall be free of mortgage, charge, lien or other encumbrances and shall be restored to his possession; (iv) a bonded labourer shall not be evicted from a homestead or other residential premise he was occupying as part of the consideration for the bonded labour; and (v) no creditor may accept payment against an extinguished debt.

Indian courts have given a very broad, expansive interpretation to the definition of bonded labour. For example, where a person has provided labour or services to another and received a remuneration below the minimum wage, the Courts have ruled that the labour or service falls clearly within the scope of the prohibition of forced labour under the constitution.