The word “slavery” typically evokes horror, with images of African slaves being inhumanely exploited in North America a couple of centuries ago. But modern slavery is all too real – and right in our backyard. India has, alarmingly, emerged at the top in the Global Slavery Index, 2016, compiled by the Walk Free Foundation, an Australian advocacy.

More than 18 million people in the country still live in slavery, while half of the population is susceptible to modern slavery, according to the report.

Modern slavery is defined by the Global Slavery Index as “...situations where one person has taken away another person’s freedom – to control their body, their freedom to choose, to refuse certain work or to stop working – so that they can be exploited. Freedom is taken away by threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power and deception.”

Modern slavery in India comprises bonded labour, commercial sexual exploitation, forced begging, forced recruitment into non-state armed groups, forced or servile marriage, and child labour. It is prevalent in the construction, manufacturing, agriculture and fishing industries, with brick kilns producing “blood bricks” being the worst offenders.

“Vulnerability to slavery in India has some common elements, with poverty and the lack of capacity to absorb shocks, and deep structural inequalities reflecting gender, caste and tribe all being highly relevant,” the report said.

One may look the other way, but domestic help is another common, and often ignored, area of modern slavery, where those employed as cleaners, cooks, caretakers are given meagre salaries for working long and extra hours, and commonly subjected to mental, sexual and physical abuse.

The last thing one might have expected in the 21st Century is slavery, but India clearly hasn’t seen its back.