An ancient scourge called slavery

Synopsis : Slavery is an ancient scourge that bedevils humankind even today although it has been in practice since the ancient times. Laws have been enacted to ban it but people still practice slavery where the laws are weak and poorly implemented. Now women are lured into prostitution through the promise of jobs but they end up as sex slaves .Children are forced to work in brick factories because the parents borrowed a paltry sum they can’t pay back so there are many forms of slavery.

An ancient scourge called slavery

Slave Auction
circa 1830: A slave auction in America.

An ancient scourge called slavery

I have not willingly wanted to write about this topic because it makes me sad to think that human beings are treated this way even today although slavery is a very ancient crime against humanity.

We have read that the practice of slavery since the dawn of history has been prevalent in many parts of the world but what is unbelievable is that it continues even today in many forms that I will explain later.

The ancient Egyptians built theirs temples, cities and pyramids using slave labor of Jews among others whom Moses saved and brought out to populate the Palestine according to the Old Testament after a very long struggle with the Pharaoh who would not let them go.

The Egyptians needed the slaves to build their cities and temples because their people were mostly farmers who were needed to grow food to feed the population and the slaves and also because growing food was more important than building temples and pyramids. So the farmers were cattle herders, food growers and makers of certain essential things like potteries, weaving clothes and other useful things.

During the period when they were not busy with farming or other such activities related to farming, they dug canals, repaired and maintained them, worked in quarries to cut stones for the buildings required by the king, built or repaired their own homes, made agricultural tools and baskets and paid taxes that were meticulously collected. If they failed to pay their taxes due to bad harvest or other calamities like locusts etc., the sons were taken away to be made into soldiers in the army to fight endless wars the pharaohs fought. The daughters were also taken away to work as maids for the rich people. They were not necessarily slaves but they could not run away or go back to their villages so essentially they were not free to do what they wanted.

The slaves were forced to build the cities and pyramids or temples but they were fed by the farmers who baked the bread for them and supplied the wheat and barley their wives then made into flour. The common people when not farming also worked as carriers of stones needed for the massive construction all over the country. They brought these stones to the construction sites using their dhows, boats or even floated them using goat skin bladders but they were not slaves. Egyptians raided the Nubian country in the south that is now part of Sudan to capture slaves there but also from Ethiopia. The war booty always included slaves who were then put to work under harsh conditions.

The Romans later on used the slaves extensively to build their vast empire and treated the slaves harshly as well. They needed slaves to power their galleys, build their roads and baths, amphitheaters all over the Mediterranean and often turned their avowed enemies into slaves even if they were Romans.

When Ben Hur did not give in to the demands of Messala, he contrived to put his mother and sister in a leper’s colony on fake charges and had BenHur arrested and put in a galley ship as a slave. These galley slaves seldom lasted a few years and had to be constantly resupplied.

The Aztecs and Maya all used their war prisoners as slaves and often sacrificed them to appease their Gods. Their cruelty to the slaves had no limits.

But the worst slave masters were the Africans themselves who would sell a rival tribe wholesale to the Arab slavers by conspiring with the slavers as to when to attack and show the roads or the weakness in the defense of the tribes.

The Arab slavers were Moslems who believed that their Koran sanctioned slavery so they had no qualms about capturing slaves, killing them if they resisted and frog marched them to the coast where the slave ships waited. Those who survived such harsh treatment that included beatings, starvation and other forms of punishment were sold in Zanzibar market through the rogue agents like Tippu Tib who then made a handsome profit that he shared with the sultan of Zanzibar.

The early explorers  like Dr.Livingstone were also missionaries who while exploring the unknown interiors of Africa also tried to spread Christianity at the behest of their sponsors back in England  and constantly wrote back home about the cruelty of slavery, mass murders by the Arab slavers and the utter inhuman treatment of the black inhabitants of Africa by the slavers all in the name of business. This eventually resulted in an act of the parliament in England that banned slavery and Dr.Livingstone himself was able to free many captured slaves making him very unpopular with slavers.

But before the ban came into effect, who were the people buying and selling slaves and making enormous profit? They were Englishmen, Scotts, Dutch and Belgians and many others who had this trade firmly in hand and supplied slaves to the plantations in the southern states in the United States, to the British colonies, to the Islands of Haiti etc. Haiti was the first to rebel and gain freedom from the slave masters but the Americans were making great profit from slavery so they fought tooth and nail to keep them, lost the civil war and technically the slavery was ended. The discrimination against black people still continues but that is a topic for another blog perhaps.

So the story of slavery is quite ancient. It is still practiced openly in some countries in Africa like Mauritania and in the middle east where it is carried on in the name of Koran that approves it .

The Dutch voortrekkers in South Africa were particularly hateful of black people whom they considered sub human and worse than animals so they treated them the same because they were after land and territory where they could start their farms. This brought them into conflict with the Zulus and other tribes as well so the bloodshed was the results. Sometimes the Zulus massacred the Dutch and other times the Zulus were slaughtered whole sale by the well armed Dutch.

The African spears and arrows were no match for the guns so eventually they lost and the Dutch took over the South African country where they ruled using apartheid as the state policy. The so called great Mahatma Gandhi who was a lawyer in those days particularly loathed the blacks whom he called the savages with bad habits, low morality and worse than animals who were not equal to the colored people like himself.

There is a story of a Peace Corps girl who wanted to ride with the Bedouins in the Saharan desert to explore the deep south so she found her camel ride but the Bedouin made her his slave right away, raped her repeatedly and finally locked her up  in a mud walled village room dressed as a man . This poor girl suffered unbelievable harsh treatment in the hands of her slaver until she one day escaped from her prison and was able to reach the civilization and saved her life. Her naiveté was so surprising in this day and age.

Hitler took slavery to a new height when he ordered all Jews, gypsies and many other minorities to be rounded up and systematically killed by gas or shot in concentration camps but others were forced to work in factories to make the war materials or labor camps to shore up defenses. Jewish girls were particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse and beatings. The diary of Ann Frank is worth reading.

The doctors used the slaves to experiment on with dangerous drugs or put them in ice cold water just to see how long it took for them to die. Such abuse in Europe continued until the allied invasion but what they discovered was more than shocking leading to Nuremburg trials.

Now the ISIS or Daesh in the middle east is trying to put Hitler to shame by enslaving, torturing and beheadings of minorities, shias, kurds, LGBT people and  will someday have to answer to a UN tribunal for crimes against humanity but just like Hitler, they show no remorse in treating other human beings this way.

Modern day slavery :

Now I can discuss how the modern day slavery works. It is quite widespread in many parts of the world. The UN makes resolutions after resolution but the member states only pay lip service to the implementation of anti slavery laws saying that they need resources, man power and training which they don’t have.

Whatever the excuse the slavery continues in many forms.

One method is to lure young village girls in Nepal, India, China, Cambodia, Laos etc. to the cities with the promise of a good job and then promptly sell them to brothels from where they cannot escape.

Remember the movie Taxi driver where the taxi driver (Robert de Niro) unable to tolerate the exploitation of young girls by the pimps in brothels takes it upon himself to do something about it, kills the brothel owner and the goons and rescues the girl  Jodie Foster and sends her home ?

In real life there are no such taxi drivers who come to the rescue of these poor girls although one former prostitute in Nepal has rescued many girls from grief through her NGO and has set up shelters for them but such help are too little and too late for the vast numbers of women  who are being trafficked this way. Prostitution is a very big business everywhere so these crooks will do anything to keep the girls in bondage because they are their milking cows.

East European girls are particularly targeted by the mafia that operates throughout EU and makes enormous profit. They are sold to mid eastern brothels in Dubai, Doha and elsewhere. Now the ISIS lures them with promise of handsome partners but sells them as slaves who can then be used by any one for sex anytime. There is no escape from this hell for these girls so some kill themselves and other trying to escape are shot.

But the abuse and exploitation that goes on in Asia is mind boggling.

The female workers who work in the clothing factories in Bangladesh and other such countries are very vulnerable. They are paid very low wages to make clothes that are sold in other countries at high price making enormous profit for the owner but they are literally locked up while working.  There was a fire that broke out in such a place in Dhaka killing over a thousand hapless women because they could not escape. The doors were locked.

The story of bonded child labor is also very tragic. They are sold to brick makers who make them work very hard for their age and beat them if they try to escape just because their parents borrowed a paltry sum of money that they could not pay . This is the modern day slavery.

The story of Man Singh is worth telling here as well.

He was a farmer in Bhind, Morena area of western part of Uttar Pradesh in India where the farming was very hard and the landlords who abused the farmers were harder. The farmers were often beaten if they could not pay their share of the harvest due to poor harvest and their women or daughters were taken away as maids and sexually abused. It got so bad that Man Singh decided to do something about it and formed an armed band to defend and fight for the abused farmers.

He killed many of the most abusive of the land owners and collected huge amount of money from the landlords by holding them hostage and other means. He then distributed this money to the poor farmers and bought more guns with the rest. He was the real Robin Hood except that there was no Sherwood Forest nearby so he hid in a place of eroded badland called behar where the police could never find him.

Now the policemen in north India are mostly from the landowning class so they saw nothing wrong in the practice of abuse of farmers. This is what their fathers, brothers and relatives did to keep a firm grip on power in rural areas so from their point of view it was Man Singh who was the culprit and he had to be killed by any means.

The police in India have lot of means and the full support of the government to boot  so one day they found Man Singh and riddled his body with 64 bullets which was an over kill but they hated Man Singh with a virulence that accounted for the 64 bullets. So Man Singh died a hero but nothing changes. The exploitation continues.

The vast number of children and young women who are trafficked worldwide and sold to brothels, brick factories, mines in Africa or in dangerous factories run into millions who cannot escape, cannot get any help from the governments or NGOs and live a tragic life.

So what has changed since the Egyptians used the whip on poor people thousands of years ago? Have we learned anything from our past inglorious history of cruelty towards our fellow human beings or have we degenerated into something worse?

I think there is a basic premise in slavery that says that the man abuses another man as long as he thinks he is superior to the abused therefore it is  justified in what he does to his fellow human being.

It can be the skin color or ethnicity or simply religion that is used as an excuse to mistreat another person and that too in this century of modern age. While it is true that many countries have eliminated slavery and all forms of human exploitation but many countries are unable to do so citing many difficulties.

I find it appalling that there are still people who consider themselves superior to a person of color so consider it their right to mistreat them with impunity. The United States in particular come to mind where almost every day a person of color is shot to death by the policemen for no apparent reason or for a reason that in other countries would be considered ludicrous. Is selling a cigarette or a CD a crime for which one needs to be killed? Apparently so in the US. Yet there is no accountability and such policemen are rarely punished or even reprimanded.

The KKK still exists and its members include policemen, judges and common white people who believe in white supremacy and continue to mistreat people of color.

The Black Panthers were banned but not the KKK so that is where we are in 2016.The election of Barack Obama was a landmark event in the annals of US history because such a thing had never happened before and will not happen any time soon but it shows that most people are decent people who do not believe in discrimination of any sort and have come to realize and appreciate the contributions made by the people of color throughout the history of mankind.

So why this shameful discrimination continues and who supports it? Why such people are not named and shamed and brought to justice? What will it take to stop the practice of slavery in all its forms and this abominable practice of treating a fellow human being in this shameful way? I have no answer.

 

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