Of the estimated 29.8 million people living in modern slavery worldwide, nearly half are in India. This harrowing statistic comes from the 2013 Global Slavery Index, published by Australia’s Walk Free Foundation. It is the first comprehensive index of global slavery, covering 162 countries, and defining slavery as:
“The possession and control of a person in such a way as to significantly deprive that person of his or her individual liberty, with the intent of exploiting that person through their use, management, profit, transfer or disposal. Usually this exercise will be achieved through means such as violence or threats of violence, deception and/or coercion.”
The per-country rankings are estimated using three variables – a composite estimate of the number of people in slavery, an estimate of the level of human trafficking from and into each country, and an estimate of the prevalence of child marriages. The first annual Global Slavery Index draws on 10 years of research and is endorsed by the likes of Hillary Clinton, Tony Blair, Bill Gates and Richard Branson.
India topped the list with a staggering 13.9 million estimated slaves, most of whom are “Dalits” (sometimes referred to as “untouchables”) – members of India’s lowest caste. China ranked a very distant second, with 2.9 million. Pakistan came in third, with 2.1 million. No other countries on the list broke into the millions.
In a country that has been overwhelmed by recent media reports of violent – sometimes deadly – gang rapes and a seemingly complete disregard for women’s rights, India is reeling from yet another national disgrace.
“Sixty-six years after independence, India has the dubious distinction of being home to half the number of modern day slaves in the world,” reported The Times of India. “The study says that in India there's some exploitation of foreign nationals, but by far the largest proportion of slaves are Indians exploited by other Indians within the country, particularly through debt bondage and bonded labor.”
“Meet the world’s Number 1 slaveholder: India” read a headline on The First Post. “It’s a shameful statistic. The report is going to raise hackles in India. It will be perceived as another way for the West to lord it over us,” the article continued.
The figures from the Walk Free Foundation are actually lower than estimates by the U.S. State department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which assesses human trafficking and forced labor.
“The  TIP report released by the U.S. State department had put the number of people in some sort of forced labor at an estimated 20 to 65 million : men, women, and children mainly in debt bondage to a local landowner, forced to work in industries such as brick kilns, rice mills, agriculture, and embroidery factories,” said Hindustan Times. “The TIP report cites instances where women and girls from the northeastern states and Odisha have been sold or coerced into forced marriages in states with low female-to-male gender ratios, including Haryana and Punjab and forced into prostitution.”
Although India ranked first for the total number of estimated slaves, it ranked fourth per capita – behind Mauritania, Haiti and Pakistan. Iceland, Ireland and the U.K. make a three-way tie for having the fewest number of slaves.