|Bag of rice costs Indian villager 27 years of slavery
March 27, 2007
PATNA, India -- An Indian state ordered a probe Tuesday into allegations that a villager was forced into virtual slavery 27 years ago to repay a sackful of rice he borrowed from a moneylender.
Jawahar Manjhi's charge shocked the administration of the poverty-ridden eastern state of Bihar, where feudal landlords backed by private armies are still believed to employ bonded labor, despite laws banning the practice.
Manjhi said he borrowed 40 kilograms (88 pounds) of rice from a village moneylender in 1980 on the condition that he repay the debt by working in the fields.
"It was agreed I would pay off one kilogram of rice with each day of work," said Manjhi, who was 45 years old when he took the loan to feed guests at a family wedding.
But abject poverty and hunger drove him to borrow more, Manjhi told reporters in his impoverished village of Paliganj, 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the state capital, Patna.
"Originally the loan was about 40 kilos and now 27 years on I do not know how much I have repaid and how much more I still owe the lender," said Manjhi, a father of four children, at his single-roomed, mud-baked hut.
The case came to light after it was reported by a local social rights group.
The tormentor promised to free Manjhi if he paid 5,000 rupees ($111) which would include accumulated interest, the villager said, but added he did not understand the basis of the calculation of the loan and did not have the money.
Manjhi said: "There are many more like me."