Friend of Free the Slaves, artist Ben Swatez will be having an art show this Sunday, February 12 at the Phantom Gallery in Long Beach, CA. Last year, Ben visited our frontline work in the village of Bahari in India. The community there had just recently come out of slavery through Free the Slaves’ Free a Village, Build a Movement initiative. Ben brought art supplies and taught the villagers how to paint. The resulting artworks are breath-taking—you can see some of them here.
Since returning to the U.S., Ben has been developing a body of work based on the paintings by the formerly enslaved villagers. He has created art pieces that combine the villagers’ self portraits with portraits that he paints. You’ll be able to see his work in progress at the art show this weekend.
We’d love to see you there!
The Indian government recently announced it would “establish about 330 more anti-human trafficking (AHT) units across the country that would train around 10,000 police personnel in three years on rescue and rehabilitation of victims.”
This announcement comes just months after India’s Secretary of Labor Prabhat C. Chaturvedi denied the existence of slavery in India, saying, “We are aware of the problem of bonded labor, and also [the] problem of child labor in this country.” But, he said, “I would certainly not like to bracket this as slavery.” Chaturvedi’s comments were in response to CNN’s coverage of Free the Slaves’ anti-slavery work in India. Read Free the Slaves’ response to Chaturvedi’s statement here.
The Indian government’s efforts to beef up anti-slavery efforts are a good indication that people in power are serious about eradicating modern-day slavery. But law enforcement and governance are only part of the solution. To eradicate slavery on our lifetime, a holistic, well-rounded approach must be put into place, which targets the root causes of slavery.
This is why FTS launched our Free a Village Build a Movement initiative in India. In certain regions, entire villages are trapped in debt-bondage slavery—sometimes for generations. The system of debt-bondage can be so ingrained that people can see no way out.
But FTS and our frontline partners in India have found that when villagers know their rights (slavery is outlawed in India), and are empowered to organize and stand up to their slaveholders, lasting change can happen. We have seen entire villages come to freedom.
Through the Free a Village Build a Movement initiative, villagers receive job training, and get micro loans to help start their own businesses, so they can become economically independent. Local vigilance committees are organized to keep traffickers at bay. Schools are established so children can be educated. Villagers learn to advocate on behalf of those still in slavery and pressure the police to do their jobs and enforce anti-slavery laws.
We have found that freedom is contagious. When one village comes to freedom, it inspires other villages to demand their freedom as well.
Bringing villages to freedom is not just a “charity exercise.” When people are free, they create what Free the Slaves President Kevin Bales calls the “freedom dividend”: entire communities prosper. Local economies thrive when formerly enslaved people start their own businesses. The economic benefits can be passed on for generations
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During the 2010 Freedom Awards events, Free the Slaves became acquainted with an energetic artist and traveler, Ben Swatez. Ben did live painting during the Freedom Rocks after party, and we were inspired by his passion, and ability to connect with the audience.
Ben had an idea to continue to help Free the Slaves out: the India Art Project, which is an outgrowth of Free the Slaves’ Free a Village Build a Movement campaign, in which entire communities are brought out of slavery through holistic, economic and social programs. Ben auctioned off the art he produced at Freedom Rocks to finance his trip to India. There, he planned to create an art therapy program for survivors of slavery. In collaboration with the villagers, Ben planned to create a series of art works.
Ben successfully raised the money. Last month, he and his partner Diana departed for Uttar Pradesh, India, to work with the children in the village of Bahari—a village that was once embroiled in slavery, and now, with the help of FTS partners and the Free a Village Build a Movement campaign, have moved out of slavery.
Read Ben and Diana’s dispatch, and see more photos of children in Bahari doing art therapy after the jump!Sara Sidner of CNN is continuing covering of Free the Slaves’ work in Uttar Pradesh, India. Just launched on Monday, CNN’s Freedom Project covers modern-day slavery all over the world. New stories are going online and broadcast every single day—a truly unprecedented scope of coverage. And Free the Slaves is honored and thrilled to be a part of it!
Yesterday Sara Sidner’s segment on debt bondage in India aired. CNN camera crews shot a brick kiln in Uttar Pradesh, India, where entire families are enslaved over bogus debts, forced to build bricks under threats of violence.
Today, the coverage continues with an exploration of the work being done to eradicate slavery in Uttar Pradesh. The segment begins with a raid. Law enforcement and Free the Slaves partners descended on a carpet loom known to house enslaved children. But when they arrived, it was virtually empty—the slaveholders had been tipped off, and had evacuated the loom.
Free the Slaves South Asia Director Supriya Awasthi (shown briefly in the video above), says “I freaked out, as it was a huge loom, but there were no kids there.” But the team of rescuers ran to the back of the building, where they found the children being shuffled away. Activists from Free the Slaves’ partner organization MSEMVS were able to rescue six bonded laborers—five children, and one disabled adult.
The footage above is hard to watch. The raid and rescue can be a terrifying moment for the victims. In some instances, victims have been rescued before, only to be re-enslaved. Without comprehensive, holistic programs that deal with the root causes of slavery, raids and rescues don’t lead to lasting freedom.
That’s why Free the Slaves created the Free a Village Build a Movement campaign, to empower entire communities to come out of the influence of their slaveholders. Through micro loans, villagers can become self sufficient. Schools help children become educated for the future. Villagers are empowered with knowledge of their rights. They learn to organize and demand justice.
CNN was able to capture some of this work. They interviewed formerly enslaved children, who spend their days in school, rather than toiling in looms or brick kilns. Sidner reports that some former slaves have filed an official complaint of sexual harassment agains their former slaveholder, describing it as “an act of courage” that “would never have been possible, if they hadn’t been told of their rights.”
Here’s a news link about a part of the world that Free the Slaves is very active in: Uttar Pradesh, India.
Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India, has high rates of generational slavery. Entire villages have been trapped in debt bondage for generations. With our local partners, Free the Slaves has instituted holistic programs that empower these communities to stand up to their slave masters, and demand freedom. (Learn more about FTS’ Free a Village Build a Movement Campaign here.)
In India, slavery is outlawed, but many people in debt bondage—who are often on the lowest rung of Indian society—are unaware of their rights, or without the resources and social support to come out of enslavement. A story broke last week that sheds light on the social pressure that keep this population vulnerable.
The BBC has a feature report on a massive scandal, in which local government officials in Uttar Pradesh systematically stole food from “citizens who are right at the bottom of the economic ladder”—the very people most vulnerable to enslavement.
Via the BBC:
Officials say massive quantities of food gran and fuel, meant to be distributed through the public distribution system or to be given to the poor under welfare schemes like food-for-work and school meals for poor children, have been stolen over the eyars and sold on the open market.
This is being investigated by India’s federal police and there are countless pages of court documents setting out the extent of the deception.
The scale is immense. It involves thousands of officials from top-level bureaucrats to middle-level officers to ground-level workers. It also involves thousands of transporters, village council leaders an fair-price shop owners.
It stretches across 54 of the state’s 71 districts, and investigators say the food is carried out of the state and sometimes even beyond Indian borders to Bangladesh and Nepal.
Thanks, Doruntine Kosumi, for the tip!