Understanding Global Slavery: A Reader

By Kevin Bales | Go to book overview

Notes

Chapter 1. Understanding Slavery Today

1. Sankalp is an Indian social movement that was set up 1994, and that has worked in partnership since 2001 with the American antislavery organization Free the Slaves. Based in a poor, remote region of Uttar Pradesh in North India, Sankalp enables members of communities who have been enslaved as stone quarry workers, often for several generations, to leave the slaveholders and work for themselves. In the past few years, over four thousand adults, and many more children, have been able to walk away from slavery and begin sustainable livelihoods with Sankalp’s assistance.

In slavery, families receive less than half the state-determined minimum wage and barely survive; children are forced to work carrying sand and rocks to waiting trucks, missing out on the education that might radically improve their future prospects. Tuberculosis, malaria, and silicosis have been endemic in the area, and forests have been reduced to barren deserts through indiscriminate felling of trees and mining by profiteering contractors.

With Sankalp’s help, the laborers form self-help groups and gain control over the key economic resource from which they earn a living. They do this by saving tiny amounts together and using their savings to obtain loans from local banks. With these loans, they pay for legal quarrying leases. Having their own leases allows laborers to immediately triple their income.

Simply being organized into local groups and knowing their civil rights makes former slaves less vulnerable to violent reprisals by slaveholders. Group members in villages that have their own leases now provide sanctuary to people fleeing violence from villages still in slavery. Now, with the formation of a federation of two hundred of these self-help groups, the balance of power in the whole region—between laborers and slaveholding quarry contractors—is rapidly changing. Laborers are starting to think of other ways to earn a living—and hope to leave stone crushing behind forever.

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