However, Indian slavery predates the western one by centuries, and when slavery was at its peak in the West, here, in India, the sun had already set on it long, long ago. Another distinction that appears to be there is that in India a slave did not have to be a slave of one man or the other all his life.
He could purchase his release by paying up. Surely, a slave who works for no money would have no money to purchase his freedom, but the option did exist unlike in the West where blacks were enslaved and sold and purchased with no option but to remain slaves all their lives.
In India, slavery, however, stayed in a different form – bonded labour. This form of slavery, though not of the kind covered under the conventional understanding of the term, is slavery in a milder form. During times of need wealthy zamindars or tradesmen would lend some money to the needy poor and when the fellow was not able to pay the loan with the interest he was made to work for the lender.
Such persons often failed in repaying the loan in their lifetime and their son or sons would also have to work for the lender to repay. The money the lender gave was bare subsistence. It is estimated that there are some 25 lakh bonded labourers in India. The practice continues despite the fact that forced labour is prohibited under the Constitution of India and the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976.
The social activists took the initiative and started filing cases in public interest. The courts considering it a menace insisted not only on their release but also their proper rehabilitation.
Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India, and Neeraj Choudhary v. State of Madhya Pradesh are the cases where the court directed the release of bonded labour and their rehabilitation.