I Was a Slave

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These narratives come from To Plead Our Own Cause: Personal Stories by Today’s Slaves (Cornell University Press, 2008), by Kevin Bales and Zoe Trodd. The modern slave narrative, the authors write, “has emancipatory power as a linguistic weapon of the violated. . . . Now the narrators make themselves subjects of a story instead of objects for sale.”

This article is part of a package on the modern slave trade. For more stories from To Plead Our Own Cause, read the online exclusive “ More Slave Stories .” Also read our special report on ending the slave trade, “ People for Sale .”

Rambho (India, 2004)
Rambho is an Indian boy who was trafficked into a carpet loom in Uttar Pradesh, India. More than 300,000 children are estimated to be trapped in India’s carpet industry.
My name is Rambho Kumar and I am 11 years old. I used to work at home, and I also used to play and roam around with the kids living nearby. A man named Shankar and the owner of the loom came one day to my house and gave 700 rupees [$15] for me. They told my parents that they were going to educate me and make me do some work. I didn’t want to go to the looms. I wanted to stay at home. But there was no money at home for us to eat, so my mother told me to go. I was crying and saying that I didn’t want to go there. They said that they’re going to give me money. He’ll send money home and then after some time I can come back. But after a very long time, he told me that I’m not going to be able to go back home ever. I was there for one year. The owner used to tell us, “If the police ever come, run away before they can catch you.” So I knew that when the police came I’d be taken away from there. When I saw them coming I was very happy.

Elira (Italy, 2005)
Elira is an Albanian woman who was trafficked to Italy and forced to work as a prostitute.
I am from Elbasan. When I was 15, my parents married me, against my will, to a man aged 35, whom I did not love. So started my miseries. Not too long afterwards, I abandoned him and returned to my family. But my parents did not accept me back because I had dishonored them by leaving my husband. I had no support and nowhere to go. I got acquainted with a boy who was 20 who said he loved me and promised to marry me. He convinced me to go to Italy for “a better life.” I thought my sufferings were at an end, but I did not know the real hell that was expecting me. I was compelled to work on the street. I did so for nearly three years. My exploiter savagely battered me frequently, mainly when I did not bring home the required sum or when he faced drug trafficking problems. Once he beat me so hard that I cannot remember, and I fell on the floor. A friend of mine, passing by to meet me, found me on the floor, covered in blood. She saved my life by taking me to the hospital.

Shanti (India, 2001)
Shanti is an Indian woman who was enslaved as a bonded laborer in the rock quarries of Uttar Pradesh, India.
My name is Shanti. I do not know my age. I have five children. My contractor has said, “If you die I will take your dead body out of the mud and make you work to return my debt.” My husband died this year and the contractor gave me no money for his burial. I have a 9-year-old daughter, and the contractor caught her hands and said that he would force her to work to repay my loans. He says I owe 8,000 rupees [$180]. My husband took the loan, and now that he has died the contractor is forcing me and my daughter to pay it back. I tried my best to work somewhere else, but if he does not let me go, what am I to do? He forces me to work for him. I break stones. I break enough to earn 400 rupees [$9], and it takes me 10 or 12 days to achieve that. I don’t even have a place to stay. I stay on someone else’s land. And when they tell me I have to move my little hut, I have to move it.

To Plead Our Own Cause is excerpted with permission of Cornell University Press. Copyright © 2008 Cornell University.

What You Can Do

 

Abolitionism is one of those dusty words from history’s dank closet, conjuring Harriet Tubman, Frederick Doug­lass, and the Underground Railroad. There’s a modern-day abolitionist movement afoot, and while it does sometimes involve stealthy nighttime escapes, it also works in more up-front ways to dismantle the social, economic, and political conditions that prop up slavery.

In the United States, the most prominent abolitionist group is Free the Slaves. Begun in response to the groundbreaking 1999 book Disposable People by Free the Slaves president Kevin Bales, the organization is the go-to source for the most reliable research about the international slave trade, and it really does what its name suggests.

“Yes, they literally knock down doors and help slaves escape,” Free the Slaves writes about its liberators on its website. “But they also help survivors rebuild their lives, and work for systemic solutions.”

Visit the website (www.freetheslaves.net) to learn more about the slave trade, hear stories by slaves and activists, and find out how to combat slavery in your community as well as in your products and investments.

For more personal narratives in an online exclusive bonus feature, click here.