Slavery in modern India

women kneeling by many freshly made clay bricks

India is the world’s largest democracy, with a population exceeded only by China, and is home to a variety of people groups, languages, cultures, philosophies and religions.

India’s economy is booming with the world’s fastest growing telecommunications industry, and significant vehicle, engineering, pharmaceutical and software sectors.

To continue making progress, India is having to address major issues such as poverty, corruption, inequality and severe exploitation through modern slavery and human trafficking.

Why are Dalits so vulnerable?

Alongside India’s economic progress, wealth and prosperity, the country has one third of the world’s poorest billion people. Most are Dalits. Taking into account education, health and living standards, over half of India’s population are considered to be in poverty.

Although the situation is improving, many Dalits feel excluded. Some still find it difficult to access education, healthcare and justice. In some parts of India Dalits may still be prevented from entering public parks, temples or even getting drinking water from the village pump.

Historically, Dalits have found themselves at the bottom of society, outside of a traditional hierarchical structure in Indian society (known as the caste system). This determined their religious purity, their work and their social standing and relationships.

Dalits would often have the most menial, dehumanising jobs. Others would avoid contact with them because of their religious impurity – this is why they used to be known as Untouchables. Untouchability was outlawed by the Indian constitution, but the practice persists in some parts of India.

All these factors contribute to their vulnerability to modern slavery.

Definition

*Throughout this exhibition the word Dalit includes both scheduled castes and scheduled tribes (Adivasis – India’s indigenous tribes)