Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Slavery Begins At Home

Image from Pixabay
Written by Godfrey Pereira, the author of Bloodline Bandra, for the International Day of Abolition of Slavery. 

The numbers have been crunched, studies by experts published, smart talking heads with impeccable credentials on  television spout their in depth knowledge on slavery every other week and international bodies with good intentions make bad decisions on how to go about tackling slavery. Social media prophets, sitting in the dark, shine a light on what they think are remedies, and international names lend their stardust  "For The Cause". The data on modern day slavery is there, for all to see, all over the world. To repeat it here would be another impotent boring lecture given to the deaf. Great organizations like A 21 Campaign, Anti-Slavery International, and the Dalit Freedom Network U.K. are all fighting a losing battle.
Today, slavery is a 21st century happening. From the sweat shops in New York City to the thousands of children in India, forced by circumstance and society to work long hours, to the Arabs in the Middle East, mistreating their maids and thousands of laborers, slavery goes about its business, openly in broad day light, day after day after day. One does not always have to look at major exploitation and human trafficking incidents. The rich housewives from Bombay, New Delhi and other major cities in India, who employ young teen aged girls from rural villages as live in "Servants," and make them work from 7am to 10pm are culprits who should be punished. What do you say to these housewives? Are they not aiding and abetting a form of slavery? How many of them have heard of the term "Domestic Servitude." And if they have, do they care? Does the immediate society around them care? Does anybody care? Slavery has many faces. It is alive today, because religion, social mores and politicians have failed to tackle the problem over the years, not only in India but all over the world.
But we must turn to India, because statistics state that India is at the center of this global open sore. The index, published by the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation, in 2013, ranked 162 countries. According to the index, there are 29.6 million people in modern slavery globally. India leads the world, followed by China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, Thailand, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar and Bangladesh. 
Take the poor untouchables, in the thousands of villages in India. Many of them are still tied to their fates. They were born untouchable, and untouchable they shall remain. Let them that say that this is still not happening in India today, come forward and throw the first stone. This is ugly slavery with the mystical ring of holy religion around the necks of the untouchables. The fat fakirs, the keepers of the faith who lord it over Brahaminical theology and mantras that are little more than cow crap are as much to blame as the pot bellied shifty eyed rat babu politicians whose greasy palm prints help shift vote banks by maintaining the status quo for the rich and powerful.
Today in India, thousands of poor farmers are still yoked by the Zamindar system. How many years does it take for a government to shatter the spine of the corrupt landowner? The farmer, yoked like a bullock, earning just enough to keep skin on bone, will die broken. And what he has to give to his children, is the cycle of slavery that him and his forefathers were chained to. That is the pitiful inheritance that he passes on. A diminishing impoverished return that leads to the burning funeral pyre. Who talks for these people in India today? Who is voicing their silent screams? Sure there are organizations. And there are social workers. And there are NGOs. But do they have the TEETH, to make a real positive change? The fact remains: after all these years, the man chained to the lender's wheel, continues to go round and round and round in a circle of deceit that EVERYBODY is aware of. This has been going on and the facts on the ground state that there is little anybody can do about it, because in a place like India, the culture of corruption is embedded deep within the fat folds of a society that subconsciously harbors this crime, because it benefits the rich, the powerful, the housewife and the small businessman. The rich owner of a brick factory, employs children and adults at slave rates, he pays off the greasy politicians, who in turn wink at the police and officials. A little chai pani flows under the table. And the wheel turns. It's just another brick in a wall that will never crumble, because the sentinels of society command that the wall has to stand. And if, the brick factory owner is prosecuted by a heroic organization, the case takes 20 years to settle. Meanwhile the chakra turns and another thousand bricks are created as human lives are ground into mud. This is how the wheel of slavery is nourished and sustained. To argue that the child and man working for a pittance are not slaves to the rich brick factory owner is senseless. They are free to leave, one may argue. Not true. Go to the small villages. See the pressure that is brought upon poor workers. To try and leave is an insult to the rich factory owner, that may cost a poor man his life. Starting over with nothing, in another place and another state is not something many poor Indians do very well. Sure, the streets of  Mumbai are always there. From slavery they can run to being homeless foot path dwellers begging for a living, defecating in gutters; living the life of slow death. That is not a solution. This is not Bollywood; this is REALITY.
The Bonded Labor (Prohibition) Act 1976 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (concerning slavery and servitude) is a joke. Nobody cares. Nobody is prosecuted, nobody is jailed. When was the last time in India, that somebody, anybody, was prosecuted and found guilty of slavery? When? But it is happening right between the eyes of an open society right? Yes, no, maybe.....?  You don't have to go far to view slavery from your window in the year 2014.
The website of 'Anti Slavery Day states: 'The exploitation of human beings for profit takes many forms, including sexual exploitation, forced labor, child trafficking, and domestic servitude. The efforts of successive governments to tackle its causes and effects have met with limited success.'
A question here: Which official organization in the Indian government deals with the above mentioned crimes against humanity? And what have they done; and what are they doing about it? Who is the minister whose job it is to see that this does not escalate? At whose desk does the buck stop here? Can anyone name somebody, anybody...?    
The National Human Rights Commission of India is an autonomous public body constituted on 12 October 1993. Konakuppakatil Gopinathan Balakrishnan (K. G. Balakrishnan) is the Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of India. He is a former Chief Justice of India.
And here is the vicious but not surprising body blow. Wikipedia states: 'A petition-seeking vigilance probe into the allegations of "amassment of wealth disproportionate to their sources of income" by Balakrishnan's family members, was filed before the Income Tax Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau. The income tax department has confirmed that at least three of his relatives had held a large amount of black money.
In February 2012, the Supreme Court of India in a case filed by the NGO Common Cause, inquired of the government as to the progress in the probe against Justice Balakrishnan.'
It is 2014 now; Yes, what happened to the probe??? Please someone do tell!
And here is another kick in the groin: 'Balakrishnan's son-in-law and Indian Youth Congress leader P. V. Srinijan, who did not have any land four years ago, is now the owner of property worth crores of rupees. According to a report by news channel Asianet News, Srinijan had declared while contesting as a Congress candidate in the 2006 Assembly elections that he had no landed property. He had contested unsuccessfully from the SC reserved constituency of Njarackal in Ernakulam. In light of the charges, Srinijan resigned from the Youth Congress. '
Is anybody surprised? The wheel turns back to corruption, the root of all exploitation in India. How can you stem the flow of slavery in India when the Chairperson of the very organization supposed to look into exploitation is being looked at as corrupt? This is something the new government in India should look into. This is not a New Delhi political business as usual board game. This is life. This is death. This is children, women and men being raped and violated by a system that hypocritically swears to protect them.
The new Prime Minister Mr. Modi is rightfully advocating for a clean India. India will be truly cleansed when its children and untouchables and bonded workers are free from the clutches of slavery that is abetted and nourished by the pimps of corruption. For that to happen, it will take more than brandishing a broom in public. Tough laws with strong teeth, that will be charge, prosecute and sentence in a short period of time will start to change the tide. For many Indians, Modi's ascension is the dawn of a new era. Hopefully, the new prime minister, will put on his old Chai wallah hat and look at the wheel of slavery in its scantly disguised avatar in India.
Slavery clothes itself differently these days.
Take the case of Devyani Khobragade who was arrested on in New York City last year on charges of visa fraud and misrepresentation. She is alleged to have treated her "servant," Richard like a slave. At the time of her arrest, Khobragade was functioning as deputy consul general at the Indian Consulate in New York. The nitty- gritty dirt, and hysterical eruptions that followed in India are well documented by now. The fact that Sangeeta Richard was the victim here seems to have by passed Indians. The hysterical blabbering for action against America was fore front. That Richard was exploited was forgotten. In India, Devyani Khobragade advocated for women’s rights. But in New York, she was a slave driver, says the family of Khobragade’s housekeeper. Consular official Khobragade worked domestic servant Sangeeta ­Richard from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day, “tantamount to keeping a person in slavery-like conditions or keeping a person in bondage,” Richard’s husband, Philip, said in court papers filed in Delhi. Eventually, Khobragade returned to India, on a diplomatic slip and slide rule, but she will be prosecuted if she ever returns to The United States. For those who still argue that what Khobragade did to her servant Richard was not slavery, well... walk in Richard's servants feet for a week... from 6am to 11pm day after night after day. A former slave from New Orleans once said, "If our perception of what amounts to slavery today is colored black by our social needs and political fancies, then slavery will be shackled, bound and kicking for years to come. We are the keepers of the old flame of past and present injustices, and there is no government, organization or God that can change that poverty within us. It is we who must light a new torch. We must stand up individually and see that this open sore heals and vanishes from the face of this earth." And remember what Mahatma Gandhi once said, "We must become the change that we want to see in the world."  The former American slave and the Indian Mahatma were saying the same thing. Nobody it seemed listened; because today, 2014, we are still discussing the scourge of slavery. This infected oozing open wound, will take a long time to heal, especially in India, because the ointment that is being applied to stop the puss and aid the healing process is made from an ingredient called 'Corruption.'