I’m writing to tell you about an extraordinary man and his remarkable legal clinic in India.
The man is Roshan Lal. He was raised in a family of slaves. Now he is free and helping those still in slavery.
Roshan’s clinic is a testament to his courage and dedication. It’s a small brick outpost surrounded by vast fields of wheat. Women and men crowd inside on a bare floor.
What Roshan accomplishes in this simple setting – work made possible by your continuing support – is proof that victory is possible. Victory against violent moneylenders, contractors and gangsters who afflict this part of northern India.
Roshan’s story is an inspiring example of how your investment in Free the Slaves is an investment in freedom.
Where Roshan lives, slavery endures. His neighbors are forced to make bricks, crush stones and harvest crops under the harshest conditions. They are not paid. They suffer physical and sexual abuse. Roshan knows these hardships. He endured them too.
Fortunately, activists supported by Free the Slaves reached Roshan’s family several years ago. They broke the hold of traffickers. Roshan’s family started new lives in freedom.
This is the transformation that you’re making possible by donating to Free the Slaves. Preventing slavery, rescuing the enslaved, helping freed slaves build new lives, promoting the prosecution of slaveholders.
We work with local partners to combat the schemes and conditions that force people into slavery and allow slavery to persist. Our strategy is effective. We need your help to bring it to many more people like Roshan.
Once free, Roshan was able to resume his education. He’s now in law school, and works as a paralegal in the tiny brick clinic.
“I want to help everyone get their human rights,” he says. “My dream is to bring freedom to everyone who is enslaved.”
There are heroes like Roshan in all our programs. Freed slaves, inspired to help those still enslaved.
I hope that you will take this opportunity to make or renew your contribution to Free the Slaves.
Your gift enables Roshan and others to spread freedom around the world.
Imagine being beaten and denied the right to govern your own life.
Imagine being deprived of basic necessities.
Little food, water, shelter or money – and no education.
That’s the reality of modern-day slavery.
But for 25 families in the village of Titrahi in northern India, that is now behind them.
Thanks to a man named Munnu.
The Brutality of Slavery
The families had been in slavery for a decade before they met Munnu. For the first five years, they worked at a brick kiln. When it closed, the slaveholder transferred them to his farm.
They had been taken forcefully from their homes, and given the equivalent of $1 for 10 days of work. One woman said her husband died because they could not afford to buy medicine. They were held as captives. Humiliated.
“When we went to relieve ourselves, he would come up behind and hit us on the head,” one man recalls about the slaveholder.
“We couldn’t even go to get a drink,” another said, “We didn’t drink as much as we sweated. They would give thousands of abuses if we went for a drink.”
The slaves were treated as objects, as tools.
“If we raised our voice, we were beaten. If we got sick, we were beaten for not working,” one said.
Munnu Strikes Again
This is where Munnu, a slavery survivor himself, enters the story. (See: From Victim to Liberator Part One here).
Munnu had been rescued by a group of freed villagers working with the FTS frontline partner organization MSEMVS. Munnu and the villagers helped rescue 22 others trapped in slavery at a brick kiln, including Munnu’s family.
Munnu was running his own small business when he discovered another case of rural Indian villagers trapped in slavery. They were the 25 families from Titrahi.
Munnu alerted a MSEMVS fieldworker about the enslaved families. It set the wheels of justice in motion.
MSEMVS and an attorney secretly met with the families to devise a plan to free them. Quickly, authorities were contacted and the families were rescued.
A Fulfilling Life in Freedom
The families still work on farms, but now they earn four to five times as much as they did as slaves. And they are free to come and go as they like.
They had little hope, but are now establishing fulfilling lives in society. A new slate with new opportunities.
They can send their kids to school. They’re learning new work skills, to earn money without risking enslavement at local farms or factories. They are creating a self-help savings group, to pay for emergencies instead of risking debt-bondage enslavement by borrowing from unscrupulous money lenders.
The highlight of this story is how one person can help the next, creating a chain reaction of freedom.
“We are free now,” the survivors say. “Now nobody can suppress us.”
Its arrival causes quite a stir.
It’s just a simple van.
But when it stops in remote hamlets, singers pop out, signs go up, and villagers learn that their lives can be better.
It’s called the “Anti-Slavery Chariot.”
It tours communities where slavery is rampant.
And it’s spreading the word that enslavement is illegal and people can escape it.
Organized by the FTS frontline partner organization MSEMVS, the chariot has been a runaway success.
It has visited 49 villages to date, attracting more than 25,000 people to educational street theater performances and informational presentations.
The project has generated more than 500 follow-up phone calls by villagers seeking information and help.
More than 40 trafficking cases have been uncovered, with rescues now being planned.
One case has already led to freedom for 24 children enslaved in a biscuit-making factory. They were made to work night shifts to reduce the risk of being discovered.
They had been in slavery for eight months. Today they are free.
The chariot project began because many of the new leaders emerging in villages that have successfully battled slavery decided that they want to help other communities. Some of these leaders had personal experiences of slavery within their own families.
They asked MSEMVS to help them spread awareness in an organized way.
The chariot brings slavery into public view. The information it shares helps families understand what trafficking and slavery are, and how they can get help for victims.
As one participant explained: “We never knew about human trafficking and its forms, but this chariot helped us know that slavery is a crime.”
The chariot tour is just getting started. The organizers plan to reach 100,000 more people in heavy trafficking areas of northern India.
Editor’s note: learn more about our innovative projects in India on the FTS website.
Editor’s note: This is the fifth and final post from guest blogger Carol Metzker. Carol is a longtime supporter of Free the Slaves. She recently visited our frontline work in India. In this series of articles, she writes about the Punarnawa ashram, a shelter for girls and women who are survivors of sex trafficking. Today, she talks about Community Vigilance Committees (CVC). Free the Slaves and our frontline partners have learned that a community that stays vigilant against predatory slave traffickers, tends to stay free. Learn more about our frontline programs here. And you can read Carol’s past blog posts here, here, here and here.
In a remote hamlet of India near the borders of Nepal and Bangladesh, villagers crowded under the eaves of thatched roofs and in the shade bamboo trees. They observed us as we sat on mats covering the ground. We met with men, from the hamlet and from a neighboring village, who gathered to discuss ways to protect their families against human trafficking and slavery.
Free The Slaves educators, their local partners, and an established Community Vigilance Committee (CVC) from a nearby area had stepped in after two 12-year-old boys from this community were trafficked with five other local boys the previous year. The boys were rescued before they had reached their intended work site in Delhi, but they needed help from a rehabilitation center for children rescued from slavery before returning home. The educators and concerned neighbors began to inform the villagers of their human rights and to teach them how to safeguard additional children from slavery.
With nearly no access to schooling, and freedom not guaranteed in the region, the villagers did not know that liberty is every human’s right. The families who gathered in the most humble setting—without benches, whiteboards, slide presentations, books or handouts—learned at the CVC meetings that children’s education is free and compulsory by law, that citizens are entitled to converse with elected leaders and that they are entitled to work at jobs that provide pay. These basic fundamentals provide a kind of inoculation against enslavement—protection from slavery’s root causes of illiteracy, poverty and vulnerability.
The man who headed the other village’s committee spoke to us. His son had been trafficked and rescued a few years earlier. Knowing firsthand the heartache of nearly losing a child, the father helped his own village committee become strong to guard its community members and then sought to help nearby communities learn to protect themselves.
Since the educators and other villagers’ committee had been working in the hamlet, not a single child had been trafficked. Families without food and out of work, in a village that already existed well below the poverty line, were getting assistance with food and finding access to healthcare. Villagers were becoming aware, educated and less vulnerable.
Thanks to Free the Slaves and the people who support its efforts, change is taking hold.
Editor’s note: This is the fourth part in a series of blog posts written by longtime Free the Slaves supporter Carol Metzker. Carol has been writing about her visit to Punarnawa ashram in India, where girls who have survived slavery heal and rehabilitate. (You can read her earlier articles here, here and here.)
What is it like to talk to a child who has been robbed of her rights, her freedom, her dignity and her childhood?
At Punarnawa Ashram, a better question to ask is: What is it like to interact with a girl who has a second chance in the world, a new set of educational and vocational skills, a fresh dose of hope and the means to pursue a life of happiness? Because of Free the Slaves, its compassionate workers and generous donors, girls are regaining their rightful place and power in the world.
On the last day of my November 2011 visit to this special rehabilitation center for young females who have survived slavery and sexual exploitation, I pulled fabric scraps and twine from by luggage. On a rectangle of pale blue satin, I wrote my deepest wish for the ashram: serenity to the souls who walk its grounds and the soles that touch its earth. Then I tied it to the twine that I had strung from a dorm’s porch column to a window frame. One by one, the girls, visitors and staff members chose cloth, added their hopes and hung them on the line.
The girls told us the dreams written in Hindi and English on their banners: “To be a doctor,” and “To be with my mom and dad soon.” A pink banner said simply, “I love you God.” Another girl whose native northern Indian language was different from that of the others drew a flower on a scrap of yellow silk. The wishes hung like Nepalese prayer flags—pink, lavender, red, lime green, yellow, silver and blue—above their garden of marigolds and in the dazzling sunshine.
Because of Free the Slaves and donors, these girls have the ability to dream dreams, the voice to speak them, and the skills to pursue them. Isn’t this what liberty is all about?