Millions of people are still being kept as slaves in India despite the practice being banned more than 40 years ago.
It comes as a human rights panel is set to probe the failure of authorities to support around 1,0000 rescued slave workers from brick-making factories.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) will investigate why officials in the districts of Reasi and Samba – where the factory workers were – did not issue survivors with release certificates.
The workers and their families were rescued from the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir last weekend, having been trafficked from the state of Chhattisgarh, in central India.
Some had been working for as long as 30 years, according to Nirmal Gorana of the National Campaign Committee for Eradication of Bonded Labour (NCCEBD).
He said: ‘They had not once stepped out of the brick kilns. This was a clear case of trafficking for bonded labour.’
India banned bonded labour in 1976, but millions of people remain enslaved in fields, brick kilns, rice mills, brothels and private homes.
Most slaves are from marginalised Dalit and tribal communities.
Under Indian law, survivors should be provided with documents that entitle them to cash compensation, jobs, land and education for their children.
NHRS commission registrar Surajit Dey said: ‘They were trafficked workers. We have asked the district magistrates of Reasi and Samba to issue them release certificates.’
Sheetal Nanda, the Samba district magistrate, said: ‘There is no question of a release certificate until the time we can establish it was bonded labour.’
In 2016, the government announced plans to rescue more than 18 million bonded labourers by 2030, and to increase compensation for rescued workers by fivefold.
‘But in many cases, officials fail to recognise them as bonded workers and simply send them back to their home state,’ said Umi Daniel, a migrant rights activist with Aide et Action in the eastern state of Odisha.
He estimated that only about 10 to 15 percent of those rescued in the last five years were given release certificates.
The workers and their families who were rescued last weekend were taken to Delhi, India’s capital, where they staged protests demanding certificates.