JEEVIKA is a courageous grassroots organization that works in rural villages outside Bangalore, where the Dalits or “untouchable” caste has endured centuries of poverty and humiliation.
Many Dalits are trapped in debt bondage slavery. They’ve borrowed small amounts from wealthy farm owners to pay for family emergencies. They’ve been cheated when exploitative landlords claim the debts have never been repaid.
Families are forced to continue working off the loans, sometimes for generations. JEEVIKA estimates up to 500,000 people are in debt slavery in the Indian state of Karnataka.
“This is a heinous system,” says Shivanna Puttaiah. He grew up in slavery, yanked from school at age 12 to work off the family debt as a farm hand. “When I was a bonded laborer, I was treated like an animal. When I see bonded laborers, I have fire in my heart,” he says.