Unfinished Liberation: Agricultural bonded labour in India and Nepal and the human rights-based approach

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http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-951-51-3343-4
Title: Unfinished Liberation: Agricultural bonded labour in India and Nepal and the human rights-based approach
Author: Samonova, Elena
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences, Development Studies
Doctoral Programme in Political, Societal and Regional Changes
Publisher: University of Helsinki
Date: 2018-11-09
Language: en
Belongs to series: URN:ISSN:ISSN 2343-273X
URI: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-951-51-3343-4
http://hdl.handle.net/10138/246105
Thesis level: Doctoral dissertation (monograph)
Abstract: Slavery and slavery like practices have many faces and forms. This thesis aims to investigate one of the most widespread forms of slavery, namely bonded labour. Bonded labour is an exploitative interlinking of credit agreement and labour, where a debtor has to repay his debt through long term servitude. In this thesis, I focus on two cases of bonded labour in agriculture: debt bondage among Tharu people in Nepal and Sahariya people in India. In both cases the establishment of systems of bonded labour is connected to the long term processes of internal colonization, dispossession, nationalization of natural resources, and the introduction of private land ownership. The overall goal of the thesis is to find out in what way the full liberation of bonded labourers is possible. In particular, I investigate the effects associated with the implementation of the human rights-based approaches to bonded labour. Thus, the research questions are: What are the factors and forces that contribute and reinforce the situation of bonded labour? And in what manner does the application of a rights-based approach affect the liberation of those oppressed groups who experience debt-bondage? In order to answer this research question, I apply qualitative methods of inquiry, including in-depth interviews and group discussions. The data were gathered during three field trips that took place between November 2015 and December 2016. The translation of the situation of bonded labour into the language of power relations demonstrates that bondage is a situation of multiple powerlessness, where various forms and levels of power block the agency of people held in bondage. Thus, the situation of bondage can be seen as a situation of objectification and de-humanization of people. The full liberation of bonded labourers means reconstitution of power relations in favour of people held in bondage. The analysis shows that legislation alone cannot eliminate the practice of bondage, since it does not challenge the deep rooted causes of power imbalance. In turn, the analysis of the implementation of the human rights-based approaches demonstrates their capacity to contribute to the successful deconstruction of internalized oppression, and re-establishment of subject status among the community. In this way, the implementation of the human rights-based approach contributes to the process of re-humanization that is required for the deconstruction of the oppressive social relations. Additionally, the rights-based approaches support the opening of old and the creation of new participatory spaces, the development of new behaviour patterns, and changes in social expectations and social norms. Thus, these approaches reduce the risks of a return to bonded labour. The analysis demonstrates that the absolute majority of identified changes takes place at the personal and community level, while macro levels of power remain barely addressed. That is why it can be argued that deep structural powers that produce and re-produce social exclusion are still intact. Thus, the situation of freed bonded labours in India and Nepal can be called unfinished liberation, which means that the communities of (ex) bonded labourers are still located at the bottom of the hierarchy of social life.Slavery and slavery like practices have many faces and forms. This thesis aims to investigate one of the most widespread forms of slavery, namely bonded labour. Bonded labour is an exploitative interlinking of credit agreement and labour, where a debtor has to repay his debt through long term servitude. In this thesis, I focus on two cases of bonded labour in agriculture: debt bondage among Tharu people in Nepal and Sahariya people in India. In both cases the establishment of systems of bonded labour is connected to the long term processes of internal colonization, dispossession, nationalization of natural resources, and the introduction of private land ownership.
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