Indian works 27 years to repay loan of 40 kilograms of rice

NEW DELHI, Reuters

A villager in eastern India has been repaying a loan of 40 kg of rice with 27 years of bonded labor, a newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Jawahar Manjhi, from the impoverished state of Bihar, took the rice from a lender for a family wedding in exchange for him working in the lender’s field. It was agreed Manjhi, 45, would pay off one kg of rice for each day he worked.

But since then, Manjhi has taken more loans of rice and now has no idea how much he has repaid.

“Originally the loan was about 40 kg,” Manjhi was quoted as saying in the Times of India. “Twenty-seven years on, I don’t know how much have I repaid and how much more I owe the lender.”

Living in a one-room mud house with his wife and four children, the poor laborer says he has no idea how the interest on the rice loan was calculated and does not know how he will repay the entire loan in one lifetime.

He was told he would be freed from his bond if he paid 5,000 rupees (US$115) — an amount far beyond his reach.

Manjhi said there were “many more like me” in the area, but Bihar’s labor minister told the newspaper that the government was not aware of any bonded labor in Bihar.

According to the government, around 20 percent of India’s billion-plus population live below the poverty line and while strong economic growth has made millions in the cities richer, it has bypassed many people living in rural areas.

In recent years, there has been a spate of suicides by poverty-stricken farmers unable to repay loans borrowed from village moneylenders at interest rates as high as 60 percent a month.