Slaves in Ancient India - History of India
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Slavery in India

Moghul
Women fetching water

April 2016 - There were probably always slaves in India, but until about 1000 AD there were only a few slaves, and most of them worked as house servants.

But when Islamic conquerors reached India, they forced many more people to be slaves. The Islamic conquerors sold thousands of these slaves out of India to work in Persia (modern Iran) or Afghanistan. Many of these people worked in the mines.

But people also came to India to work as slaves, especially black people from East Africa. Beginning about 500 AD, as more traders went back and forth between Africa and India, more of them bought people in Africa and brought them back to India as slaves. African people mostly worked as bodyguards and soldiers; because they came from outside Indian politics, rulers trusted them more. Many of these African people eventually got free and became traders or government administrators.

Another form of slavery was debt-bondage, where people became slaves in exchange for a loan of money. You could be free again if you paid off the loan, but most people never managed to pay it off, because of the very high rates of interest and because their bosses didn't pay them very much. These people worked in the fields, or making shoes or weaving saris or carpets. Debt bondage is still very common in India today, especially for children between four and twelve.

Learn by doing: how much of your family's income goes to pay off debt?
More about slavery
More about Ancient India

Bibliography and further reading about slavery in India:

More about caste in India
More about ancient India
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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