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Haruwa-charuwa or the modern day slaves

Haruwa-charuwa or the modern day slaves
Firan Pasaman is a third-generation haruwa-charuwa or a bonded laborer serving a landlord in a small settlement of Nunpatti in Shahidnagar Municipality, Dhanusha. The 55-year-old says he is toiling to pay off the loan that his grandfather, Swaruplal, had taken from his landlord’s family several decades ago. Before Pasaman, his father Ruplal too had served the family until his death. Pasaman has no hope of breaking free from this debt bondage. “The interest keeps stacking up and on top of that, I have my own loan to pay,” he laments.

He had taken a loan of Rs 200,000 at a three percent interest rate for his wife’s treatment and his daughter’s wedding three years ago.

“I have been signing new bond agreements with my landlord every year because I haven’t been able to even pay him the interest.” Pasaman’s only way out is to keep working for his master. He gets seven kilogram of paddy grain as a daily wage, which is roughly equivalent to Rs 140. He has a family of seven to look after. “I am essentially a slave to my landlord. He doesn’t allow me to work other jobs.” Just like Pasaman, Ladubatti and her husband Paltu are also hopeless bonded laborers. The couple, also from Nunpatti settlement, works for the local landlord, Arvind Chaudhary. Ladubatti says after her husband suffered a disease in his intestines, she is the only one working for her landlord these days. “I had taken a Rs 100,000 loan for my husband’s treatment and I have no means to pay it off.” Like Pasaman, Ladubatti also gets seven kilogram of paddy grains as her daily wage. She says her family is getting by only because sons, who have gone to India for work, help out with the expenses. Like Pasaman and Ladubatti’s there are dozens of families in Nunpatti who have fallen into the debt bondage trap of the local landlords. These families are landless and more than half of them do not even have citizenship documents, without which they have been deprived of the state facilities including social security allowance. They cannot report the abuse and discrimination they suffer at the hands of their powerful landlords, who are connected to local politicians and government officials. Shri Prasad Sada is the central vice-chairman of Haruwa-charuwa Rights Forum. But he himself is a bonded worker for Rajaram Kapar, a landlord in Pachaharwa settlement of Shahidnagar. “I had taken a loan of Rs 200,000 to send my son abroad to work, but he returned after a few days because his company closed down,” he says. “The landlord wants the loan to be paid in full before I can find another job.” Sada earns Rs 100 a day and when his sons help out in the work, the father-son duo makes Rs 200. With such a meager wage, they do not know whether to feed themselves or pay the interest on the loan. “The government should help us out.” Government records show there are 1,680 Haruwa-charuwa households in Shahidnagar Municipality. Some non-profit organizations have been working with these households to uplift them from poverty by offering them skill-based training and education for their children. But the government is doing little to nothing. “Keeping a bonded laborer in today’s day and age is an outright slavery that won’t be tolerated,” says Dinesh Prasad Yadav, mayor of Shahidnagar Municipality. “My office will investigate this matter and take necessary action.”