Multimedia Case - Fighting Bonded Labor in Rural India: Village Activist Gyarsi Bai Tackles an Entrenched System of Coercion

Fighting Bonded Labor in Rural India: Village Activist Gyarsi Bai Tackles an Entrenched System of Coercion


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  • Product Description

    A multimedia case is an integral part of the case study. It features short interviews with Gyarsi Bai, the case protagonist, as well as three former bonded laborers. 

    In October 2010, the beating of a young bonded laborer--his punishment for staying home sick from work--in India's northwestern state of Rajasthan triggered a movement to end the practice of bonded labor in the area. A holdover from feudal times, bonded labor was outlawed in India in 1976, but was still prevalent in some pockets of rural India. Entrenched power systems protected the practice, with the lower castes most affected. In this case, the bonded workers were members of an indigenous tribe called the Sahariyas. The case explores the negotiating strategy used by Sahariya village activist Gyarsi Bai and her allies to fight a powerful landowning community and a local government administration unresponsive to appeals from the poor. It describes how Bai built coalitions with larger activist groups and worked with them to gain media visibility and secure support at the state and national levels. These alliances pressured village authorities to make changes. Two years later, bonded labor continued to exist in the area, but a growing number of laborers had sought and received official freedom. In addition, a set of modest options--a local grain bank, village-run system of microcredit, and an expanded government work guarantee--gave bonded laborers viable alternatives to the debt trap of the past. The case also shows how larger activist groups were effective at finding strategies that enabled the Sahariyas to be agents for their own change.

    The multimedia website includes eight short videos, ranging in length from 1 to 3:30 min.

    -a video showing the desolate village where many former bonded laborers have settled with their families
    -a short interview with Gyarsi Bai, filmed right outside her humble home
    -short profiles of three former bonded laborers, including the young man whose beating spurred Bai and others into action
    -videos of Bai addressing a crowd at a rally, speaking with the Chief Minister and confronting landowners

    The website also includes an org chart illustrating the government hierarchy and the non-governmental stakeholders Gyarsi Bai interacted with to achieve her goals.

    Learning Objective:
    This case was developed for a negotiations class to introduce the topic of coalition-building in multi-party negotiations, but can also be used to examine mechanisms of social change. It demonstrates that, even in extreme situations, disenfranchised groups can make significant headway through effective use of negotiating techniques. Students examine how activist Gyarsi Bai earned the trust of vulnerable laborers, created viable alternatives to bonded labor and built coalitions with local and national NGOs, the state and central governments and the media to expand her influence.

  • Other Details

    Publication Date: October 13, 2015
    Material Included: Case and Multimedia Case
    Teaching Plan: Available with Educator Access
    HKS Case Number: 1977.4
    Video Producer/Multimedia Developer: Patricia Garcia-Rios
    Case Author: Kalpana Jain
    Faculty Lead: Kessely Hong
    Pages (incl. exhibits): 19
    Setting: India
    Language: English
    _year: 2010-2015
    _pages: 16-25
    _video: Yes
    _geography: Asia
  • Warranty Information

    /teachingplan/1977_2.pdf,, /review/1977.0.EducatorCopy.pdf