When we think of poverty, the ready emergence of glaring sights of hunger, disease, homelessness, illiteracy, dirty water, lack of livelihoods and education, come to our minds. Very few of us think of the poor’s chronic vulnerability to violence — sexual violence, bonded labour, human trafficking of families, women and children for sex and labour, and other forms of oppression that lie hidden underneath the visible deprivations of the poor. The power of violence to keep the poor in abject poverty is hardly considered a vital topic in poverty alleviation discussions in India. However, as per World Bank research: crime and violence have emerged in recent years as major obstacles to the realization of development objectives. Multiple studies by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have also concluded that restraining violence is a precondition to poverty alleviation and economic development, plainly stating that a foundational level of order must be established before development objectives can be realized. Endemic to poverty is the high vulnerability to hidden violence that the poor face as a daily reality. Hence, for all conversation and noble efforts on poverty reduction/alleviation and shared prosperity in India, there is an imperative for a vitally related discussion on the end of hidden violence against the poor.

India’s informal economy account for nearly 90% of the total labour force, who so far fall outside of any labour protection laws. The growing demand of informal workforce participation in the formal economy through subcontracting mechanisms, coupled with scores of desperate families and individuals clutching for any potential employment opportunity to subsist, pose some grave concerns on the role of unscrupulous recruitment (labour brokers/agents also called subcontractors) exploiting migrant workers and indigenous vulnerable groups who predominantly hail from extremely impoverished communities. Human trafficking for labour and bonded labour are crimes against the poor where perpetrators use diverse strategies to secure the initial consent of the individual or group through deception, inducement, fraud, abuse of power, so as to gain total control over their bodies and maximize the utility and productivity of their remaining lives for labour or sex in order to reap huge financial profits.

To the offender, it presents a unique financial opportunity of crime to use a person’s own consent through deceit or fraud, and separate them from all possible lines of defenses — such as family, community, and govt machinery (law enforcement), and when deception gets exposed, they are defenseless against brutal violence. We can readily understand this notion from sex-trafficking of women and children for forced prostitution. When individuals are separated from their families or communities and brought to the destination, the first mode of violence meted out is to break the will of the individual through constant gang-rapes and brutal beatings so as to weed out any semblance of resistance. Millions of families and children have in the past, and even still today, live in daily fear, languishing in bondage of servitude for labour or sex — some for decades (ten, twenty and thirty years) simply from taking a paltry amount of as low as `500 as a cash advance that seemed very attractive with the offer of salvation from poverty and misery.

It is essential to closely monitor the structure of the labour market and the trends of engaging labour through deception where realization of the physical, economic or sexual exploitation is mostly at the destination with less focus on sourcing locations. Presently, information only from a socially spirited personnel/victim/kinsman of the victim awake the response of the State machinery. The enhancement of State vigilance and response, requires multi-agency approach that involves active consumer participation, and intolerance against exploitative practices and goods produced from human trafficking/bonded labour, demanding effective responsible business practices such as human rights assessments in supply chains, uptake of studies for data capture on the extent of prevalence of the issue, rolling out of responsible sourcing and supplier education programs that provide the legal framework of such human rights violations, direct intelligence to law enforcement, strengthening and empowerment of communities and NGO action that can provide a bridge to judicial and extra-judicial grievance mechanisms so that access to justice can be a reality for the poor.