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Dancing woman from Mohenjo Daro, in what is now Pakistan: Slavery in medieval India

Dancing woman from Mohenjo Daro, in what is now Pakistan

Slavery in ancient India

There were probably always slaves in India, but until about 1000 AD there were only a few people who were enslaved, and most of them worked as house servants or entertainers.

Islam brings more slavery to India

But when Islamic conquerors reached India, they forced many more people to be enslaved. The Islamic conquerors sold thousands of these enslaved people out of India to work in Iran or Afghanistan. Many of these people worked in the mines. So there were a lot more slaves in medieval India.

African servants with an Indian ruler: slavery in medieval India

Enslaved African servants with an Indian ruler


Africans enslaved in India

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. Some became rich and powerful.

Children working in a brick factory in what is now Pakistan

Children working in a brick factory in what is now Pakistan

Debt slavery in India

Another form of slavery was debt-bondage, where people became enslaved 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 bricks or shoes or weaving saris or carpets. When you had children, you could send them to pay off your debt, so they became enslaved too. Debt bondage is still very common in India today, especially for children between four and twelve.

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