Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Slavery in Pakistan?

Does slavery still exist...in Pakistan?

When peasant Tago Bheel and his wife, Mira, fled from the captivity of their feudal lord last month, they knew it was a matter of life or death. Barefooted and starving, both ran all night, collapsing on reaching safety as the sun dawned on a new day for the couple.

They escaped from agricultural fields where they had worked for the past ten years as bonded laborers in Pakistan's Sindh Province. "We were living like slaves," says Mr. Tago after his escape. "We used to dream of freedom every day and now it has become a reality."

There are more than 7,000 bonded laborers like Tago, who either escaped or were released by human rights activists in Sindh Province during the past decade from the clutches of feudal lords.

Human rights activists say there are thousands more still forced to work in the fields, struggling to pay off debts taken anywhere from a few years to a few generations ago. In Sindh Province, feudal lords have clout in the main political parties and some are even members of parliament - while the peasants have been long disadvantaged as part of a low-caste Hindu minority.

"Bonded laborers are the new face of slavery," says Hassan Dars, a sociologist in Hyderabad. "Here, people are still being bought, sold, and bartered."


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