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Apr 22, 2019

Born to be a Slave?

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By Vera Alvares, India [ Published Date: November 2, 2010 ]

"You cannot begin to help the world unless you begin to call things by their right names." said Confucius.

In the Global hunger index released on October 16th 2008, India ranks 66th among the nations of the world! The major threat of hunger is in 33 countries, including India. Rising food prices have worsened the situation.  Even after 60 long years of glorious democracy, India has not been able to feed all its billion children. Why? Not being a political analyst does not hinder me from believing that alleviating hunger IS NOT the top priority of any government- remaining in power is!

But there are some selfless Indians committed to the cause of serving social justice. One among these stalwarts is Sri Harsh Mander who is a social worker and writer. He was the member of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) till he resigned in 2002, after the Gujarat riots, in protest against the attitude of the administration in dealing with the communal riots there. He was honored with the M. A. Thomas National Human Rights Award from the Vigil India Movement in 2002. This award is conferred on individuals or organizations that have made significant contributions in the field of Human Rights.

His article, 'In Bonded Servitude" brought tears to my eyes. I want to share with you the heart-rending tales of people in bonded labour, no better than modern day slaves in the Indian state of Orissa, recently in the news for relentless violence. This one tale will serve as an eye-opener as to why the poor Adivasis and Tribals in Orissa had to be killed and burnt to stop them from being educated and knowing their rights!

This is the story of Gopinath Dura, in the words of Harsh Mander.

'Gopinath, bonded slave for more than 40 years to one master, does not want to be free. He is terrified by the thought of liberty. His master gives him food and a new Dhoti twice a year. "If I am freed, where will I go? I have nobody in the world", he says.  He was born in Malkangiri, a remote backwater area which is driven by hunger, debt bondage and sporadic Naxalite bloodletting.

Gopinathís words are slow and halting, as he reconstructs the sparse and humble details of his life. He was barely five years old when he was given away in bondage to a rich landed moneylender, Ramchandra Kelap. His father had taken from Kelap a loan of two bullocks to cultivate his two acres of dry land. In return he gave away his son as a bonded slave. Forty years later, Gopinath remains yoked to Ramchandra Kelapís son.

Gopinathís memories of his family are blurred and painful, like flashes of a dimly recalled bad dream. He remembers only that his parents would always quarrel. One day he learnt that both had in a moment of crazed frenzy swallowed poison and died. His younger brother still cultivates the small tract of land that they owned and from time to time takes further loans from Kelap against Gopinathís unending and unresisting servitude. For Gopinath, the only legacy of his barely remembered parents is a lifetime of bondage.
Gopinath, for as long as he can remember, stretches out to sleep at night at the corner of the courtyard of his masterís sprawling mansion. He works in his fields, tends his cattle and attends all day to domestic chores in his home. He is paid three bags of paddy every year after each harvest. Since he eats his meals in his masterís kitchen, the master takes back the paddy!

It is not that Gopinath has no dreams. He still hopes that one day he will be married, and own a home and a small patch of land. His master has long promised him that he will give him land, find a bride for him and get him married. Gopinath trusts that some day his master will redeem his promises to him. He bears him no rancour. "It was my father who gave me away to the master," he reasons.

Apart from two sets of clothes annually, Gopinath sometimes is given two or three rupees as a treat. He spends this to buy bidis, his only occasional indulgence.

GOPINATH is not alone in his situation of bonded servitude. For thousands among the 13 tribal communities that inhabit the wooded terrain of the remote district of Malkangiri, bondage is literally their only lifeline to survival. Their lands are almost entirely mortgaged or expropriated by moneylenders, and the denuded forests, guarded by a Forest Department which is still colonial in its ethos, are unable to sustain them any longerí.

Shades of "Uncle Tomís Cabin", in India after centuries?

Bondage is outlawed in India, and in theory, an employer of bonded workers can be sent to jail for up to three years. But this modern slavery is a way of much-accepted tradition in Orissa because the government is concentrating all its energies on digging up the earth for riches rather than resurrecting the zombies called slaves!

A cash loan of sometimes no more than a few hundred or a thousand rupees, or a bag of seeds, or a pair of bullocks, or some sacks of paddy; these are all that it takes to secure a bonded slave for years, sometimes even generations. The bonded worker agrees to work for little or no wages, often nothing more than food and clothes. The wages for their work under bondage are usually credited against only the interest for the loan, and bondage continues often for many long years, sometimes even beyond a lifetime, until the principal is finally deemed to be repaid!

Now we know the reason for the intimidation with swords, daggers, and trishuls- It was to ensure that the free bonded labour supply does not dry up because some do-gooders are feeding and educating the 'slavesí to know their rights!! 


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Ridima, India :
Fathima Rohan, USA - why are you silent on Swamiji's and their female disciples. Why aren't their family is taking away the basic human rights.

Rohan - you are brainwashed from your birth until date to generalize on the Hindu's and blame everything on them. What is the connection between the swamiji's disciples and a nun. The swamiji and the disciple does not represent the Hindu's. If you start a cult and have a disciple then do we again blame it on the Hindu's?. Are you out of your mind ?. If at all you had to respond to Fathima's comment, be precise and don't try to slide it off to the Hindu's. This pointing game is what is causing all the problem. The catholic condescension is sickening. It's holier than thou attitude distasteful.
A.S.Mathew, USA :
Now the ball is going to be thrown to the
court of religion, which may create another heated debate and counter attacks.

Let us all face the real problem of human
slavery as stated by the author.

If we can face the reality of slavery and try to do anything possible to solve it,
that is great.
zeeshan, India :
Dr. Arun - Do you think that the 'christians' are the only ones with common sense. Don't you think that the above corruption and political issue is the responsibility of every Indian? Why is it that you have to bring your religion into every issue. The only covert operation the Christians are known for is conversion which is rampant in orissa.

Fathima, your points are very true. It is a fact that you state. The Christians will not even allow a lady bishop. It is again controlled by the males in the church.

All the church wants is a bunch of dedicated folks with no family ties to harvest souls.
Fathima Rohan, USA :
Fathima- mangalore, India,

Nun hood is not snatching parenthood, any Christian female has free will to get marry. When you talk about nun's, why are you silent on Swamiji's and their female disciples. Why aren't their family is taking away the basic human rights.
fathima-mangalore, India :
People talk of then slavery in America, bonded servitude in India etc.. but conveniently side-steps on the status of Nuns around the world. Especially in third world countries and in India most Nuns have poor family background. Church authorities manipulate the poor parents of young girls and then brainwash the teen girls under the guise of spirituality to take-up Nunhood. Once inducted into Nunhood their working conditions not different than any other bonded servitude. It is open secret that educated and wealthy families never encourage their daughters to take-up Nunhood.

In my opinion, offering Nunhood (snatching parenthood) of teen girl infringes her basic Human Rights.
Hope, Mangalorean publishes this comment without bias.
Dr Arun Sequeira, UAE:
We see this everywhere, not only in Orissa.
Can we come up with a solution?.
Look at the corruption in political circles; aadarsh Colony, CWG,IPL- only tip of an iceberg. This disturbs a lot of people who want to live a clean & simple life.

My suggestion is that, we Christians In India Can take an initiative to build a National party which upholds the human values and rules with the common sense. We should invite Bold and beautiful people like Kiran Bedi, Julius Rebeiro, Mr. Kairnar, T.N. Sheshan, etc who should be hand picked and given an opportunity to contest in the next loksabha election (to start with at least 50 seats). Surely they will be willing to serve the nation. This requires initative from likeminded people and advocacy from various social and religious groups.
Otherwise we will be building huge business empires, magnificient dwellings, beautiful buildings, roads and airports and pay nothing to our unorganised sector/labourers (our true neighbours). They will sleep on the road side die of hunger, malaria, AIDS and dengue.

Shall we make a change?
A.S.Mathew, USA :
Mr. Ravi: I agree with you because education is the best avenue for everybody to be free and out of slavery. Giving atleast an High school education to everybody in
India is the most important challenge to be addressed.
Ravi, India :
People should understand what the rich are doing in the name of hindusm making the poor slave not allowing them to study so that they can have free labour for them and their children.
A.S.Mathew, USA :
Slavery in any form is the worst kind of
depravity of the modern times. From the very
beginning of human history, the strong
kept the weak under their bondage, and it is
pathetically cruel. Until the strong people
are united to break the system, nothing will

This article is shedding light to the
reality of modern day slavery in India.
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