Gaining an understanding of what is happening with slave labor today is important, however, working towards sustainable solutions requires an understanding of why modern slavery exists. I began this journey two years ago visiting India, where I immersed myself with the people suppressed by this issue. It took living in the facilities, visiting their work environments, eating in their homes, laughing and playing with the kids, listening to personal stories, and discussing the hard issues to even begin to gain their perspective on human trafficking. I tried to get a sense as to what lack of dignity really means, to feel the shame of castes, and to get a sense of how the desperation of true poverty can lead to sometimes cruel decisions.

Last summer, through the Legacy Scholarship I began my academic analysis of modern slavery and combined with this semester’s Senior Honors Independent Study. Through these programs, I researched the root causes to extrapolate a deeper understanding of the cause of slavery and potential solutions. I don't profess to understand the depth of human trafficking, but I believe I gained a sense of how complex this issue really is.

Several of the people I spent time in India who had broken the chains of modern slavery, described their debt bondage as “the bondage was in my mind". Fundamental issues of basic human dignity and self-identity appeared to be core to modern slavery existence. For all the reason discussed in this paper, the Backward Classes of India are at high risk of being exploited and abused. Issues of caste, religion philosophies, and poverty reinforce a demeaning impression of ones self. Many of these people are never shown basic respect and thus have come to believe that they do not deserve it.

Through the awareness programs I could see the human spirit being revitalized as the people who became aware of the facts and their rights began to form their own voice. This voice, once given, cannot be taken away -- and this voice is contagious. Each person I met seemed dedicated to sharing their knowledge with the next generation and to other communities.

The ability to have a self-identity with goals and dreams specific to one's true calling (vs a historical definition based on birth) is very powerful and something that most people in developed countries take for granted. Identity through having a home is a very important part of this, which is why the urban slum initiatives are so powerful. The places where the people own their home (or are on a path for ownership), show much more care and pride in their home and community, and are increasingly focused on the education of their children to further their economic progress. The pride of a home is part of the personal identity and the feeling of self-worth and dignity.

I learned through the awareness programs filled with songs, dance, and play-acting, that they were doing more than just messaging about human rights. They were creating the sense of dignity and identity.

The fire I saw in the eyes of the new young leaders was inspiring, as they are filled with confidence, they speak with conviction and strength, and they sincerely care about others in their extended community. This new generation of leaders is ready to take on the responsibility of fighting for human rights, not only for themselves, but also for their families and communities.


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