Slavery is a thing of the dim and distant past’ people like to say and then, maybe, just ‘maybe’ they follow it up with ‘ But there are the haris of course’ as if this class of landless peasants are a sub-human species hardly worth a mention, let alone even a modicum of consideration and yet, right here in Pakistan, we have thousands of haris, men, women and children who are someone’s private slaves for life: And their children and children’s children too unless something – the law – changes as it must.
A photograph: It shows a child, a young boy, maybe 5 or 6 years old – covered in mud, dressed in rage, carrying bricks across a building site.
I count the bricks balanced in his tiny arms – 1, 2, 3 huge bricks, they look double sized to me but this could be an illusion.
What is not an illusion are the beads of sweat on his brown forehead, the look of sheer hopelessness in his brown eyes, the calluses on his swollen elbows and knobbly knees shouting ‘malnutrition’. He should be in school. He should not be hungry. He should not have to work.
An acquaintance commented ‘To think that these children are the architects of Pakistan’s future. So depressing’.
‘Architects indeed!’ I fired back oozing sarcasm. ‘Brick by bloody brick!’
Up flew her meticulously plucked, salon eyebrows, manicured nails – fashionably plum – flicking at none-existent emotions.”Brick by bloody brick’ she repeated mechanically. Then, as an afterthought, ‘I feel like crying’. She wouldn’t of course; it would have streaked her makeup and I wondered what she would say if I told her, that along with the thousands of ‘slaves’ working at brick kilns, she herself is a slave too.
Just take a look around at the society that we, ourselves, have allowed – yes ‘allowed’ to develop and then sit back and give it all some thought: People, be they men, women or children are on the ‘rush’ all day long as they struggle to keep up with the demands on their time. Breakfast must be had on time as there are school buses to be caught, offices to reach on time etc and the woman of the house, if she is that increasing rare creature, a housewife, must attend to whatever needs doing that particular day and ensure that there is something decently edible for lunch and, in the evening, dinner too.
After school then children are often rushed around here and there to tuitions they wouldn’t need if their teachers were up to the mark, then the family must be entertained by something or other which, usually, involves gadgets of some kind and them quite suddenly, the clock demands that if people don’t sleep now, tomorrows routine will be harder than ever.
Society, as it is and more especially so in urban centers, has made slaves out of all. Slaves to time, slaves to fashion, to food fads, to places to be ‘seen’ and on it goes endlessly yet, if anyone seriously thinks about this nightmarish rat-race – in which people go to work to pay for cars and clothes to go to work in, to pay for a house or household running costs when they rarely spend time in it and to pay for offspring to learn knowledge they will rarely, if ever, apply – it is just sheer madness!
Another sad point about all of this is that that all so demanding, sometimes demeaning, office or factory of shop or whatever work, is for the sake of someone’s profit. It enables them, not the workers, to live the life they choose and live it at their very own, personal pace. Something has obviously gone wrong somewhere!
Yes. It is, unfortunately, necessary to earn a living and increasing difficult as it is to make ends meet – and getting more so by the day – many women who would much prefer to stay at home performing their duties as mothers, now have no option but to work outside as well. And if this isn’t a form of slavery, for all of those mentioned above, then will someone please say what is.
Furthermore – and this fact makes modern slavery even worse than it already is. Slavery begins at home: It is right there, in the home, that the enforcement of mind control beings.
It begins in childhood with the ‘don’t do this’ and ‘don’t do that’, with ‘only boy’s do that’ and girls do this’ and so right, if a person is unwise enough, through until the end of their lives and the ‘control’, inevitably, stops.
Breaking the chains of slavery – whatever kind of slavery it happens to be – can be excruciatingly difficult and, it must be said, painful but, it can, I promise you, be done.
It is a matter of breaking out of the mould you, as a person, have been, unwittingly, forced in to from birth and to follow your own path in your own way.
The road to personal freedom of thought and action is far from easy and can be very long, seemingly endlessly so at times but, slowly, slowly, one small step at a time, it can be done and, once you become ‘unafraid’ to be free, you will realize what the horror of slavery really entails and then, in your new found freedom, perhaps you will be brave enough to free others, including haris and brick kiln workers from their slavery too.
The writer has authored two books titled The Gun Tree: One Woman’s War, The Parwan Wind - Dust Motes and lives in Bhurban.