Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Kim's Review: Enslaved

Kevin Bales - Director of "Free the Slaves" defines slavery as 'the total control of one person by another for the purpose of economic exploitation' The ILO defines slavery even more narrowly by adding 'it is a permanent feature, often based on descent, where a person is under the total control of another, amounting to ownership'

Under this definition, slavery would thus only exist in parts of West Africa and Sudan.What Rahila Gupta (a campaigner and journalist) sets out to do with this book, is to prove that these defintions are too narrow. Slavery is no longer just an economic phenomenon, there are sociological and political aspects too. And that slavery is rife in UK which has technically and legally abolished slavery since over 200 years, and made all the crimes associated with slavery severely punishable, yet the practice continues. And the people victimised are too powerless to do anything about it.

Rahila says that "the defining feature of modern day slavery is entrapment - physical, emotional, psychological and financial. Often sustained by threats of violence or actual violence. While no human being legally owns another human being today, men, women and children continue to be bought and sold, finding themselves at the mercy of others, forced to work for long hours for little or no pay and unable to escape. Current immigration legislation plays a central role in keeping people trapped in slavery"

To prove her point, Rahila interviews 5 former slaves who have been trafficked, smuggled or conned into the UK and tells their stories.

Farhia Nur from Somalia, underwent FGM at 8, was practically under house arrest by her employers during the revolution, raped at 18 by her employers son in Somalia which continued 2-3 times a week, who then proceede to kidnap her when she escaped to her family, then married her in a secret ceremony, so it turned to legalized rape. After 11 years when the situation in Somalia worsened, he smuggled her into the UK via Kenya, so she could sponsor his children from his 1st wife. But after arriving in UK she received no further contact from him and ended up bouncing around as unpaid househelp in other Somalians houses. Most of whom made her spend her own benefits on food for the whole household while the Home Office kept rejecting her every appeal for asylum on various grounds, including her not being able to conclusively enough prove to them that she was Somalian.

 Natasha Bulova from Russia, a casualty of the mass unemployment after the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991, ran away at 17, from her home in Samara in 2003 to Moscow, where she was stuck indoors as she did not have a propiska - permit that proves residence in a town in Russia, while waiting for the human smugglers to get her a European visa to take up (what she was promised, would be) a waitressing job in Spain, but ended up being trafficked as a prostitute in Brussels. Natasha was then trafficked to England and her new pimp was physically abusive too until she was rescued by the police and helped put him away with her testimony.

Naomi Conte from Sierra Leone, was an illiterate 8 year old who was orphaned in one of the frequent wars in Makeni. While begging on the streets she was taken in by a Lebanese woman Mrs Farah, cleaned up and put to work in her house and then transported to England by the time she turned 15, where she was confined to the house and hidden away when anyone visited. When she finally escaped it was only to run into another man who was kind to her at first and within a month started pimping her until she got pregnant. All this before she even turned 18.

Liu Bao Ren from China, a well to do Chinese brick factory owner, who got into trouble with authorities because the religious leader whose teachings he followed was Taiwanese. In order to escape persecution, he paid the snakeheads to be smuggled into Italy where he planned to join a friend in the leather business, but ended up in the UK by mistake. An extremely uncomfortable journey literally as prisoners, with long spells of walking in extreme weather, being herded tightly into small rooms & vehicles ensued and when he reached UK, he unwittingly fell for the promises of a triad to find him work & a place to stay. Then he got caught in a cycle of employment with Chinese who had been in UK longer, being paid well below minimum wage, if he ever got paid at all.

Amber Lobepreet from India, had the opportunity to visit England as a child when her uncle requested her mother to come help out during a medical emergency. So when she received an arranged marriage proposal from a UK based family, she did not think about refusing it. However once the marriage was finalised, her parents were harassed into giving expensive gifts. Her husband who initially seemed caring and sensitive, soon relented to his domineering mother and sister and started ill treating her equally badly. She was slowly prevented from making any contact with any other members of the Sikh community in Britain and her neighbours and completely isolated. Sex turned to rape, the abuse was emotional, verbal, mental,  psychological and then physical. Finally after snatching all her gold and money, her inlaws threw her out on the street and refused to have anything to do with her. Her parents did not want her to come back to India because they could not bear the shame of it all

What hits you is the feeling of futility from each of the 5 when they are interviewed. The loss of self. Rahila intersperses the stories with commentary to clarify certain cultural practices or to provide notes on their pending cases thus showing both sides of the story. There are organisations that are trying to help these modern day slaves who have been trapped by circumstance but the number they are able to reach is insignificant compared to the the number of people sufferring.

This was a very hard hitting book.

Rating: 4/5


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