Free the Slaves is proud to announce the 2016 Freedom Award winner: Samarthan, a leading grassroots organization in the Indian states of Madhya Pradesh and C

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Grassroots Group Samarthan Wins FTS Freedom Award and $10,000 PrizeFor Innovation in Addressing Bonded Labor in India

Samarthan's approach works

Free the Slaves is proud to announce the 2016 Freedom Award winner: Samarthan, a leading grassroots organization in the Indian states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh that fights bonded labor by strengthening local communities.

In 2014, Samarthan was an implementing partner of BBC Media Action’s pioneering outreach project: an original radio program on ending the vicious practice of bonded labor called Majboor Kisko Bola!—“Who Are You Calling Helpless!”

The group’s method of organizing people into “listeners' villages” is a scalable way to address and prevent bonded labor.

"Samarthan's approach works,” says Alex Woods, FTS South Asia Regional Programs Manager. “It provides essential information about workers' rights and bonded labor. It has a very broad reach. It is a very cost-effective intervention."

Samarthan’s work is often the only way to reach people in “media-dark” places. Founded in 1995, Samarthan fights slavery by empowering citizens with education and supporting the creation of citizen’s groups. Their work leads to a vital understanding within high-risk communities about labor rights and the vulnerabilities that lead to slavery.

The Freedom Awards celebrate anti-slavery heroes and innovators from around the globe by showcasing what some of the best anti-slavery work in the world looks like. Award winners set the standard for successful, sustainable anti-slavery initiatives.

Trained Samarthan facilitators travel to small villages across high-migration districts to air the weekly radio program and moderate discussions in the most marginalized, isolated communities. Over 52 original episodes, MKB! offers facts, in simple Hindi, on bonded labor, human trafficking, workers’ welfare, relevant legal protections, confronting poverty, and safe migration practices. Each 30-minute edition begins with a bonded laborer telling a personal story.

Samarthan organizers act as crucial connections between anti-slavery initiatives and the local community. They provide support on the ground to help defenseless villagers learn to organize, form self-help groups, file redressals for grievances, and negotiate their legal rights.

In rural India, bonded labor is woven into the fabric of the socio-economic structure. In Prem Bai’s village of Koya Gunjapur, people struggle to afford food and water, so they borrow money from rich farmers. When they can’t pay the interest, they are forced to work in slavery as bonded laborers.

“My parents died working to pay off these loans,” Prem says. “And we were still stuck with them. It felt like our children would be stuck, too.”

The MKB! project officially ended in 2014, but Samarthan continues to take the show to villages in Madhya Pradesh. MKB! listeners are given a mobile number to call with queries and reports of distress. Many callers ask for concrete solutions to help them fight for their freedom. During the year-long radio project, more than 200 bonded laborers were rescued.

Samarthan mobilized a follow-up initiative called Listeners’ Dialogues, or Shrota Samvads, in target districts. These meetings let people present their grievances directly to local government and police. More than 3,000 grievance redressals have been filed. Newly aware, educated listeners have also filed more than 5,000 applications to government authorities demanding entitlements.

Samarthan motivates more people to move from slavery to freedom.

After Samarthan brought MKB! to her village, Prem and nine women villagers were inspired to form their own self-help group.

“Everyone who had taken money from the farmers paid off their loans,” Prem says. “I opened a little shop. I now have an income. There are other villagers who are still troubled. I hope that by listening to my story, they too will become free like I am.”

Free the Slaves has periodically honored survivors, activists, and organizations that demonstrate outstanding courage, innovation, and dedication in the fight to end slavery. Our award winners are setting the standard for successful, sustainable anti-slavery initiatives. By generating public recognition for outstanding achievement, the awards offer inspiration and boost resources for the movement.

This year Free the Slaves chose to accept Freedom Award nominations for organizations registered in India or Nepal that implement an innovative, scalable way to address bonded labor. To see previous winners, visit

The 2016 Free the Slaves Freedom Award is made possible by a grant from the Pegasus Freedom Foundation.

Free the Slaves’ mission is to liberate slaves, help them rebuild their lives, and transform the social, economic, and political conditions that allow slavery to persist. We support community-driven interventions in partnership with local groups that help people sustainable freedom and dismantle a region’s system of slavery. Free the Slaves is showing the world that ending slavery is possible.


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Terry FitzPatrick
since: 06/2009
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