Wednesday
Mar212012

Comment on Bonded Labor in Nepal

One of our readers sent this comment on our post on labor coercion in Nepal (here):

In reference to your March 15th blog post on caste and coercion in Nepal, I take issue with your assertion that coerced and bonded labor “finally disappeared” in Nepal in 2000. While I agree that the historical practice of kamaiya labor has declined, I would argue that it has been replaced by similar and much more insidious systems of debt bondage that persist in Nepal to this day in spite of the law that abolished bonded labor in 2000. The same holds true for the rest of the Indian subcontinent—India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh also have laws that formally abolish bonded labor, but in 1999 an estimated 15-20 million bonded laborers were working in agriculture, brick, textile, and quarry industries across the subcontinent. And that is a conservative estimate (see Kevin Bales, “Disposable People,” 1999, p. 8-9). This is still very much a caste-based system; almost all contemporary bonded laborers are Dalits. It may not be the same patronage-based servitude system that it was in the pre-colonial era, but debt bondage has certainly not disappeared.

This is an excellent comment. We agree. We did not mean to suggest that all forms of bonded had ended in Nepal, and many forms of it, including debt peonage, still persist and are perfect examples of particularly harsh extractive institutions. Unfortunately, the same is likely true in other parts of the Indian subcontinent as the reader notes.

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