India has one of the world’s fastest growing economies. But the southwest Asian country also has the largest number of slaves in the world. In the midst of widespread poverty, fueled by economic inequality and rampant corruption, a new form of slavery – bridal slavery – has flourished. Women and young girls are sold for as little as $120 to men who often burden them with strenuous labour and abuse them.
They injected me with drugs and beat me. Then I was sold on.
Jamila, a former bride slave
In a country where female children are sometimes considered a financial burden, the common practice of infanticide and gender-selective abortion has led to a shortfall in the number of women available for marriage – something made all the more problematic by high dowry costs. Experts say this has encouraged bride trafficking.
Jamila, a former bride slave, says her traffickers kidnapped and drugged her, before selling her to an abusive man. “He would hit me and beat me day and night. I would have to work all day in the heat. That’s no life… Is it worth living?”
Shafiq Khan, who runs a grassroots organisation dedicated to tracking down bride traffickers and their victims, explains: “The girls do equal amounts of work in two jobs. They are sex slaves, not just to one man but a group of 10 or 12 men. Apart from that there is agriculture – working on the farms with animals from morning until night.”