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Hindu Values and Indian Social Problems.

Annotation: This article places Indian agricultural debt bondage in a wider context of the practice in Asia, employing plantation labor in southwest India as a case study. The article is a discussion of ‘free’ and ‘unfree’ labor in a long-term historical context, from pre-colonial years (early 1500s) to the post-colonial period (the 1990s). The author critiques two approaches that have emerged in the literature—that plantation work was beneficial to, and knowingly chosen by laborers, and conversely, that workers’ debt contracts and highly regulated labor environments prove that coercion and poor conditions defined their plantation experiences. The author adds a third perspective: that estate workers were, and are, simultaneously free and unfree, due to the often conflicting strategies of laborers, planters, and the government. A multi-faceted, historical understanding of agricultural forced labor requires a willingness to concede that abolition of slavery in India and other legislation did little to clarify or improve laborers’ status and conditions.