Historical background of Forced Labour in India

The Indian Constitution enjoins a fair treatment to the labourers as a human being, a moral personality and respectable citizen. Therefore, the Indian Constitution incorporates various fundamental rights for the common man and the Indian labourers. The right prompts relief to those labourers who suffer due to socio-economic injustice. It urges the state to develop a new dimension of socio-economic relationship with labours. The framers of the Indian Constitution were well acquainted with the fact that a society cannot develop if its majority of population is not free from the grip of forced labour. So the Drafting Committee after analyzing the situation inserted labour’s right against exploitation and the right to all other freedoms for an acceptable standard of living.


In India forced labour is defined as “any work or service, whether with or without payment, which is obtained from a person, against their will”. Forced labour has been classified into three different categories: (i) when a person is compelled by government to render a service for ‘public purpose’ (ii) when a person is forced by landlords or creditors to render service against their will (iii) customary forced labor obtained by a private individual. It is a pervasive issue in India. With the Industrial revolution the customary practice of forced labour which was common in the agricultural sector spread in the areas of brick kilns, bidi making, construction, mining, manual scavenging, carpet weaving, textile industry etc. The working conditions of these labourers are pathetic and they are unable to exercise the right to adequate livelihood which is a basic human right. These labourers are forced to choose employment out of financial crisis, poverty and hunger. Their economic status does not allow them to negotiate the terms of their contract so they agree to work on a wage which is less than the minimum stipulated wage by law.
In this paper we are dealing with the historical background along with provisions of forced labour under the Indian Constitution, various judicial pronouncements which enlarged the scope and ambit of Article 23 and other enactments by the legislature in order to abolish the heinous system of forced labour from the Indian society.
The barbaric system of forced labour is as old as history. The Indian history reveals the presence of this inimical system right from the ancient time to the present. The system has its genesis in the socio-economic structure of the Indian agricultural society which was subjugated by feudal and semi-feudal conditions influenced by extreme poverty and social customs. The complex caste hierarchy and social stratum structure of our society is the significant factor behind the continued existence of this system. This diversified structure created a wide gap and demarcated the elite class and impoverished section of the society. Over the years, the system prevailing in the agricultural sector is widespread in areas like construction sites, brick kilns, stone quarries, bidi making etc. In the course of action, the inhuman system has brought new dimensions in the existing socio-economic structure of our society.


The various forms of forced labour like slavery and bondage shows their existence in the ancient, medieval and British India. In ancient India, Dasa was the most common term used for slaves. However, the various Hindu sages interpret this term differently. Kautaliya, Manu and Narda have classified Dasas into different categories. The categorization of Dasa clearly exposes the semi-slavery situation of the socio-economic structure which impelled a person to enter into bondage in return for the assurance of food. The ancient literature exhibits a substantial increase in their categorization overtime. An overview of the ancient literature also indicates that slavery factually became the destiny of the lower caste poor people. The ancient laws toward the slaves were harsh. The master was proclaimed the owner of the slave’s property and the slaves were considered as a saleable commodity on which the master could exercise complete control over their person, labour and possession.


In medieval India the problem took a new dimension with the invasion of Turks who defeated the Hindu kings in several parts of the country. This period indicates the emergence of domestic slavery in India. The religious injunctions also aided the development of slavery during this period. Forced labour and bondage incurred in lieu of debt were two types of servitude that existed in the early medieval period. In the course of time, there was a need for extra labor due to an increase in peasant holdings and for this purpose the surplus was arranged from the extreme poor people of lower caste who had no land of their own.


The extreme and subsequent urgency of money to cope up with starvation led those people to force themselves into slavery.
In the 17th century the Britishers came to India for trading but eventually they captured a stronghold in the Indian soil and became masters of the Indians. On the arrival of the Britishers in India, the two categories of forced labour that is slavery and bondage overlapped and merged into each other. The British Administration report indicated the presence of this system in the west, south and eastern part of the country. However, the British government took the initiative and formulated certain measures to put an end towards forced labourers at the end of 18th century and during the first quarter of 19th century, but they failed and the system of forced labour continued to exist.

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.

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We also have a Facebook Group Restarter Moms for Mothers or Women who would like to rejoin their careers post a career break or women who are enterpreneurs.

We are also running a series Inspirational Women from January 2021 to March 31,2021, featuring around 1000 stories about Indian Women, who changed the world. #choosetochallenge

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