State Governments Mark BLSA Act’s Anniversary

The Bonded Labour System Abolition (BLSA) Act was passed on February 9, 1976. With formal and informal celebrations of Bonded Labour System Abolition Day on February 9, 2021, government leaders are publicly affirming their commitment to the cause of justice. Their words signal a promising sea change from the way some authorities viewed bonded labour in the past—and a great promise for how it can be ended in the future.

In recent decades, the government has steadily improved its response in partnership with law enforcement, NGOs and survivors themselves. Many leaders now see the BLSA as a commitment to renew every year.

The State of Tamil Nadu established a formal Bonded Labour System Abolition Day every February 9, and Karnataka has set up an informal observance of the same.

In Tamil Nadu State, the Labour Department hosted a celebration where officials took a unified pledge against bonded labour. They also launched an awareness film and a street theatre campaign, organized by a network of survivors called the Released Bonded Labourers Association. This street theatre campaign will travel across 11 districts to educate vulnerable communities about bonded labour and the government’s response. The Commissioner of Labour also sent a directive to the state’s 38 districts to honour February 9 with a similar program of pledges, awareness events, and other actions.

Greater Chennai Police screened a new short film on child bonded labour and honoured 23 ‘justice champions’ from the media, police, government and judiciary who have made exceptional contributions toward ending bonded labour.

In Karnataka, the Rural Development and Panchayat Raj (RDPR) department released a short documentary on local television and running a multi-day campaign in print and social media raising awareness of the crime. A group of bonded labour survivors also met with top officials to explain their experience, and their photo later ran as an anti-bonded labour advertisement in major newspapers.

The government set up 24 rehabilitation ‘camps’ across Karnataka, where survivors of bonded labour met their local officials and to connect to government benefit programs. These programs will help in their ongoing rehabilitation and will create safer communities where bonded labour cannot thrive.

Altogether, these diverse and impactful public engagements are showing the Indian government’s increasing commitment to reduction of bonded labour and the wellbeing of survivors. This proves a profound change from the past and gives great hope for a more just future.