A CAGED slave which stunned shoppers in a Stafford supermarket highlighted the work of a local group fighting to raise awareness of the modern-day slave trade.
Stafford’s Dalit Freedom Network (DFN) Action Group staged the startling stunt at the Slikmore Road Co-op, as part of the UK’s third annual anti-slavery day and to bring attention to the plight of the world’s slaves.
Talking to shoppers, the group shared the staggering facts that slavery, once thought abolished, still affects the lives of an estimated 27 million people, with about half of that number thought to come from the Dalit group, formerly known as ‘untouchables’, a mixed population from India.
Malcolm Egner, from Stafford and national director of the group, told the Newsletter, Dalits were among the most marginalised, oppressed, abused and exploited people in the world.
“This has been going on for over 3000 years,” he said. “Extreme poverty is rife making them incredibly vulnerable to human trafficking and other forms of modern slavery.
“So much so that the best estimates indicate that up to half of all those trafficked or in modern slavery around the world are Dalits in India.
“People like Sunita trafficked to Delhi for domestic servitude, sexually abused by her traffickers and employers,” he said. “Or Premila, sold by her parents as a bride, and subjected to abuse by her ‘husband’ and his friends.
“Or Balamma, dedicated to a goddess as a young child, then forced into ritual sex slavery when she reached puberty.
“Or Manjula forced to work extremely long hours in dangerous conditions in a matchstick factory from the age of four because her family were in debt to the factory boss.
“The stories are heartbreaking,” Mr Egner said. “I cannot look these people in the eye and not be moved by their plight.
“I believe that, especially in the 21st century, this exploitation and abuse is wrong and it has to be stopped.”
He said it was vital the people of the world stood alongside Dalit leaders to combat trafficking and encouraged people to lobby their MPs or join the group in raising awareness and funds to help anti-slavery projects in India.
Mr Egner said one of the specific requests from Dalit leaders was to help educate their children and help them avoid discrimination and ridicule.
“Our Indian colleagues have set up over a hundred schools, mainly for Dalits and others in their community, providing a quality education in English (the language of opportunity in India), from a worldview emphasising dignity, equality, self-worth and respect,” he said. “This education gives Dalits a much better opportunity in life as they can access jobs with higher earning potential than the degrading, dehumanizing, menial work that is their normal lot in life.
“It also makes a real difference now as we have good reason to believe that if they were not in our schools, 30-40% of our students would otherwise be trafficked or in bonded labour.”
He said the work was already helping to transform the lives of nearly 24,000 children.
You can find out more about the group, how you can help or even sponsor the education of a Dalit child by visiting www.dfn.org.uk.