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Exhibition Review: ‘Broken Lives’

The International Slavery Museum in Liverpool (housed in the Maritime Museum) is hosting a display on slavery in modern India. Most of the enslaved are Dalits, which means ‘broken, crushed, oppressed’; the former term ‘untouchables’ is objectionable. The exhibition, which mainly consists of factual information plus extremely moving case studies and interviews, is produced in partnership with the Dalit Freedom Network (www.dfn.org.uk).

There are perhaps fourteen million people in ‘modern slavery’ in India, which means one person in a hundred and constitutes 40 percent of the world’s slaves. Indian slavery often applies to children, and can mean everything from bonded labour (paying off their parents’ debts) to sex trafficking and domestic servitude. Boys and girls as young as five may be forced into child beggar gangs, or set to work in brick kilns. Under the Sumangali scheme, girls work in textile factories, in dreadful conditions and with little leisure time; some of the clothes they produce are for big Western corporations.

Perhaps the most appalling is ritual sex slavery, by which girls are ‘dedicated to a goddess’ as a Jogini, serving in a temple and then raped by a local power-holder when they reach puberty. After that they are available for sexual purposes to any man. Up to 80,000 women and children are enslaved as Jogini. Like child labour, this is illegal, but it still continues.

Behind all this of course are the poverty and despair of so many Indian families, the profit demands of big companies, and the ignorance and hypocrisy of religion.    

PB