Shalom Prize 2024 for Indian anti forced labor project

An Indian project against bonded labor will be awarded the Shalom Prize 2024. The KU's Shalom for Justice and Peace working group will be honoring the Jeevika organization in June. Jeevika has been active in the state of Karnataka in southwest India since 1988 and has since freed around 30,000 people from living conditions that equal slavery.

This year's Shalom Prize is awarded to Kiran Kamal Prasad and the Jeevika project he founded. Prasad has been campaigning against bonded labor in Karnataka, a state in southwest India, since 1988. Bonded labor is a form of forced labor and modern slavery. The project’s title, "Jeevika", stands for "Jeeta Vimukti Karnataka", which means "Life without bonded labor in Karnataka". According to estimates by international organizations, eleven million people in India live and work under conditions similar to slavery. Although bonded labor has been banned in India since 1976, regulations are often not implemented at local level.

Bonded labor is often a side effect of poverty: Wages in agriculture, quarries, brickworks and construction sites, for example, are just enough to cover the very basic costs of living. For medicines, new seeds or sometimes even food, workers have to take out loans from private money lenders. In order to pay off their debts, they are obliged to work in the lenders’ companies or households for little more than pocket money – a permanently lucrative business for the "employers". For those affected, mostly Dalits (formerly "untouchables") and Adivasis (indigenous people), this means a spiral of poverty and debt bondage from which they can hardly escape. Debt bondage is also accompanied by major interventions in health and life in general. In some sectors, debt bondage extends to entire families. Working hours range up to 22 hours a day, seven days a week. It is not uncommon for workers to be exposed to hazardous activities or harmful substances. They are often no longer allowed to leave the house and yard. If they fight back, they have to fear harassment and boycotts, often resulting in physical violence such as beatings, injuries and rape or even murder.

Jeevika supports the people in the villages of Karnataka in breaking up existing dependency structures and supports them in the release and rehabilitation processes that take several years. Jeevika's main focus is on empowering Dalits and other marginalized communities. Equality between men and women in rural areas is another focus of the project’s work. School and adult education and organizing trade unions are seen as key in the fight against poverty and for a life in dignity. With the support of Jeevika, already 30,000 people have been freed from debt bondage and 5,000 have been granted rehabilitation measures by the government.

Kiran Kamal Prasad
Kiran Kamal Prasad

The organization identifies where bonded laborers are working and helps to submit applications for their release and rehabilitation to the district government. The liberated workers are encouraged to join the "Association for Liberated Bonded Laborers", where they support each other, meet regularly, and develop both individual and collective projects. Self-help groups give members access to small loans and advisory services.

Regular meetings, continuing education offers, street theater for raising awareness and much more is organized to warn the public about debt bondage. The project also empowers former bonded laborers to demand their basic rights from the government. Jeevika's main goal is to bring about change in politics. Thanks to its successful lobbying, the organization was able to achieve a significant increase in state compensation payments. These are intended to support those affected in their new life in freedom. In addition, rehabilitation programs enable them to acquire a piece of farmland, cows or goats or, for example, to open a kiosk and give their children a better school education. These investments in securing their livelihoods, in the future of their children, in the knowledge of rights and in the cohesion in the Jeevika villages are an important key to ensuring that the liberated men, women and children do not become victims of slavery again. The Shalom Working Group points out that many products from India sold in Germany are based on inhumane working conditions, often including bonded labor. This in particular applies to gravestones, kitchen tops, textiles, footballs and fireworks.

The Jeevika organization receives no state support for its work. It is supported exclusively by international donor organizations and individual donations. The Shalom Prize that has been awarded annually since 1981 is one of the highest value human rights prizes in Germany. The prize money is raised exclusively through donations. In recent years, around 30,000 euros have been raised in each case. Citizens of Eichstätt, students, employees and alumni of the KU make the human rights work of the Working Group Shalom possible through their voluntary commitment. The award ceremony will be held on June 9, 2024, at 4 p.m. in the Holzersaal of the Eichstätt Sommerresidenz.

People who would like to donate for this year’s Shalom Prize are invited to send money to:
New account number: Diözese Eichstätt (KdöR) –
Donation account DE52 7509 0300 0007 6521 00 
Reference: AK Shalom, name of donor, address, place
(Donation receipt required yes/no)

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