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About us
Volunteers for Social Justice is a registered charity under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 and has income tax exemption under the Foreign Contribution Regulatory Act, 1961 and was founded in 1985 by its current General Secretary Jai Singh. Since its formation the organisation has been striving to combat the injustices facing Punjab’s most vulnerable sections of society. We work closely with trade unions and workers’ groups fighting to end inequality in the workplace, as well as with scheduled caste communities and organisations across the country seeking to end caste based discrimination. We have partners across the state, country and even across the world who share our values and are equally committed to ending injustices in our society.
Our primary focus has been on ending slavery and caste discrimination through recourse to established national laws and international human rights declarations and covenants. By extensively surveying workplaces we are able to identify those in debt bondage and we are then to provide legal advice or assistance to those in need. Though our legal team work directly with bonded labourers they also do considerable work in raising the issues of bonded debt at state and national levels. This involves filing writs to the state high court and notices to the Supreme Court of India.
Since our inception, we have identified and released over 30,000 bonded labourers (including child bonded labourers) in Punjab and other northern India states, and have monitored and worked to protect the basic human rights/child rights of people from marginalised communities vulnerable to debt bondage.
Dalit Dasta Virodhi Andolan is an off shoot of VSJ and also focuses on working with marginalised groups in society through involving the people we serve to benefit. Through planned programmatic activities such as community sensitisation and awareness meetings at village and block level, Dalit Dasta Virodhi Andolan has enhanced its network and now has a membership in excess of 12,000 – 40% of whom are women!
As activists, we work very closely with discriminated groups in the region and we have a large network of volunteers across the state who have been instrumental over the years in helping combat caste, gender and class based discrimination across Punjab. To achieve our desired goals we mobilise workers and people from these marginalised groups and hold protests across the state, demanding change wherever it is needed.
Dalit Dasta Virodhi Andolan also strives to give impetus to networking: We realise the need to unite and take collective action in all of our activities. Thus we aim to unite NGOs, trade unions, individuals and freed bonded labourers under the single identity of Dalit Dasta Virodhi Andolan for the eradication of bonded labour.
During the era of the Emergency, the Movement of Sri Jai Prakash Narayan known as Sampoorna Kranty inspired some people to work for the betterment of India’s poorest and most marginalised groups. It was in the background that a group of young men in Delhi formed an organisation known as Bandhua Mukti Morcha (Bonded Labour Liberation Front) in 1981. There was a coincidence that during the period of Emergency, the Indira Gandhi Government promulgated Abolition of Bonded Labour Act, 1976 which sought to abolish forced labour from India. However, the system remained prevalent in different parts of the country and in different sectors – agriculture, brick kiln, stone queries, the construction industry, mines etc. One of those involved with Bandhua Mukti Morcha was an activist from Punjab named Jai Singh, who in 1985 would found and lead Volunteers for Social Justice.
The inspiration to focus on bonded labourers came in 1982 when Jai Singh first took up the cause of the Brick Kiln workers in Punjab where both
the migrant labourers and local labourers were working in situations of bonded debt. There had been an incident of police firing in Jalandhar where brick kiln workers were demanding to be paid the set minimum wage. The brick kiln workers were beaten badly by the police. This prompted Jai Singh to file a Writ in Punjab and Haryana High Court which resulted in freeing 35 to 40 bonded labourers in the brick kiln industry.
It was this initial success convinced Jai Singh to take up the cause of Bonded Labourers in Punjab, Haryana and other Northern States. Thus Volunteers for Social Justice came into being. During the 80s and 90s Jai Singh filed several such Writ petitions to Punjab and Haryana High Court and through the instrumentality of Warrant Officers several Bonded Labourers in Agriculture and Brick kilns were released. Jai Singh extended his area of operation to other agencies like District Collectors cum Deputy Commissioners, Punjab State Human Rights Commission, National Human Rights Commission, SC/ST Commission and so on.
Vision – Mission – Goals
We have a VISION of a society without exploitation based on the principles of freedom, justice and equality.
Our MISSION is to create a society without a system of bonded labour or slavery, without gender and caste based discrimination, where every individual has an opportunity to engage in their own and societies economic, social, cultural and political development.
  • To end the scourge of child and bonded labour and engaging in the creation of new lives for them.
  • To engage women in employment, and end the untouchability and discrimination which marginalises Dalit and minority groups.
  • To strive for equality in the workplace, free of exploitation and where their primary needs (food, health, security, education, shelter) are fulfilled and their entitled wages are secured.
  • To spread awareness about, and create access to all legal provisions, schemes and constitutional rights made available to disadvantaged groups.
  • We denounce all cultural activities which degrade, pity or mock disadvantaged groups. Likewise, we promote all cultural activities, like festivals and events which promote equality, harmony and unity.
Our Future
The movement created by VSJ will continue to struggle for and address the bonded labour system across all sectors. We wish:
  • To continue rescuing and rehabilitating bonded labourers (Men, Women and Children) across India
  • To increase social and legal awareness among the rural poor and migrant workers in order to broaden the base and strengthen the movement against the bonded labour system.
  • To provide momentum behind building organisational structures from the grass roots level, to protect the basic rights of workers in the unorganised sector and especially bonded labourers, marginalised women and children who are working in servitude, in spite of their constitutional guarantees.
  • To build the capacity of the poor and downtrodden to realise their own social and economic empowerment.
  • To create a national level movement and network with international organisations to create similar movements across the whole of South Asia.
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