Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds Today we’re going to be talking about how do people actually come out of slavery. How do they obtain freedom? How are they liberated or liberate themselves? I’m speaking today with Ginny Baumann. She’s the senior program officer at the Freedom Fund, an international organization that actually helps people to come out of slavery from different types of situations in many different countries around the world. She’s been doing this kind of work for a very long time and is probably one of the most experienced people I’ve ever met who knows about how to get someone out of slavery. Jenny, welcome. It’s great to have you here. Thank you.
Skip to 0 minutes and 41 seconds A lot of times when I talk to people about slavery, they often say, well, but how do you get people out of slavery? What are the situations of different types of slavery, and then what does that mean in terms of how you actually then go about the process of liberation? What are some of the kinds of types of slavery that you’ve dealt with in the programs that you’ve managed? Yeah, so most of my work has been in India and Nepal and a few other countries, but some of the contexts are people in stone breaking, people working in brick kilns, a very traditional agricultural debt bondage slavery, and then commercial sexual exploitation, as well.
Skip to 1 minute and 22 seconds Those are some of the examples of the contexts that I’ve been working with. And in those types of slavery are any of those hereditary forms of slavery? Yeah, in fact, a lot of them are. It may be that people’s grandparents or parents were in one kind of slavery, but now these people are in a different one, but a lot of the people I’ve worked with can look back and say, this was the situation of my mother and father and going back multiple generations. Right. So we’re talking about long term slavery through the generations, which create situations that make it probably even more difficult to help those people to come out of slavery.
Skip to 2 minutes and 3 seconds It is because it’s very hard for people to imagine how they will survive. There’s what we’ve seen is the fear of freedom. So if I can’t turn to this person that my family has always been in bondage to when somebody gets sick, when someone dies, what will there be for me? So in a sense, you often have to replace that dependence and slavery with something very concrete that they can count on. That’s fascinating. So people are actually frightened of freedom, insecure about trying to set up on their own because they’ve never even experienced freedom. Can you give me an example of a particular place, a time situation where you’ve had to confront that type of fear of freedom?
Skip to 2 minutes and 48 seconds Yeah, one of the contexts that I’ve worked in most deeply is with the stone breakers in northern India, in an area near Allahabad in North India. And there it is intergenerational and the work that people do is literally breaking up these big rocks with hammers. And often it starts when they’re very young and they carry on doing it until they can’t do it anymore. So they’re breaking up the stones after long hours of work and they’re under a quarry contractor. The whole process is illegal. So the quarry contractors often don’t have a lease of any kind. This is an area that used to be a national forest. There’s no trees.
Skip to 3 minutes and 39 seconds So they’re just ripping up a protected national forest illegally using slave labor. That’s it. Right. Yeah, and these people are in debt bondage. That’s the mechanism. And because people feel like they owe money, then you don’t need to keep these people in chains. You don’t need to lock them up. In a sense they’ve got those chains around their brain, and that’s the bit that you have to help them get free of. But you said this is hereditary so it’s not even their, they didn’t take the money. Some ancestor took the money. Yeah, and these are very small amounts. It could be the equivalent of 30 or 40 pounds.
Skip to 4 minutes and 18 seconds But because they’re not earning the country’s minimum wage, then when something goes wrong for them, as I say, like a funeral or a wedding or an illness or an accident, then they have to add to that loan. So it becomes a repeated cycle. So that even if they could pay back one loan, which is very difficult, then they’d have to take another. But isn’t it true that type of debt bondage that the person who really owns them also, in a sense, receives all of the proceeds of their work as collateral against the original loan? Yeah, I mean it makes a huge profit. Amazing. So what happened with that group of people, the stone breakers?
Skip to 5 minutes and 1 second Yes so the group that we work with, a group called PGS that has been working on this for a long time, they’re working in hundreds of communities, most of whom are in debt bondage in stone breaking. But for example, one community that I worked with back in 2009, PGS had been visiting them for about a year, I think, before I came to have this meeting with them. They had been helping them to understand that their situation is illegal. There are laws that they can draw on.
Skip to 5 minutes and 37 seconds And they had been talking to them about there’s this group up the road about a couple of miles away from you that are running their own stone quarry that they have a legal lease on, and you can just go and work with them because those people are happy to have more people to work with them. But again, it was this fear of freedom. If we go and do this, a, we may get beaten up. But b, what will we do? Will the supply of income, the supply of food, will it be immediate? Because if we don’t work tomorrow, we don’t eat tomorrow. So they were asking all these kinds of questions.
Skip to 6 minutes and 12 seconds And in this meeting we were just trying to give them the space to think this through about do you want to do this. Do you really understand that you can have legal protection. We’ve got lawyers that can help you. And we said why don’t you just decide, or are you ready to decide today? And what we found was that the women who were sitting over on the left hand side said, you know, of course we want to do this. And then the men who were sitting on the right hand side said, we need to go away and think about this. So they went off and it was kind of like a jury going out to make its decision.
Skip to 6 minutes and 52 seconds And then they came back a little while, 10 minutes later, and yes, we think we’re going to do this. Why were the women so much more certain about reaching for freedom? It’s hard for me to know exactly what was going on in their minds.
Skip to 7 minutes and 10 seconds I think both the men and women suffer in this condition. I think sometimes the men have the more direct dealings with the contractor, so they would probably know that they might be the first ones to get beaten up in this context. But for the women there’s other dimensions to the slavery. There is sexual violence that happens against them and particularly against their teenage daughters so I think that weighs on them. But it’s hard to know why and why one was so clear and why the men needed to take that space.
Skip to 7 minutes and 47 seconds Of course it’s difficult to get people to be absolutely clear about terrible things that have happened to them and the fear they might have for their own daughters and so forth. Yeah. But if there’s a pattern of sexual assault, which there is in this type of hereditary enslavement, particularly when they’re locked down into a single place like a quarry, you can imagine that you’d be willing to do almost anything if it meant that your children wouldn’t be sexually assaulted the way you were. Well and they just want their kids to be able to go to school. That’s really important to them. And maybe, again, the women were slightly more conscious of that. I don’t know.
Skip to 8 minutes and 25 seconds So they made a collective, conscious decision to reach for freedom. What happened then? And I think they could only have made that decision with that whole year of preparation. This is not a quick process. There’s no quick fix to this. So then what happened was they said, well, we’ll meet you a few days later. And we met them at the quarry that the workers are in freedom and they came along and they did their first day of work as free workers. Did they get paid that day?
Skip to 8 minutes and 58 seconds I don’t think I’ll paid that day, but the workers who are there said we will guarantee an income for anyone who comes and works with us and they had that flexibility that they could give it to them quite quickly. I didn’t see them get paid that day. So the slaveholders that had held these families for generations, though, how did they feel about this? I’m not quite sure. I didn’t hear the feedback on that. But I was able to go back and visit the same site just very recently. And I did it with some trepidation because I didn’t know exactly what had become of them. I don’t follow up every place that I visit.
Skip to 9 minutes and 37 seconds So I thought, well, has it slipped back. What’s going to have happened there. How many years had past? Six years. Six years since this moment of liberation. That’s right. That was in 2009 and this was just recently I went back. So how’s freedom working out? Well, people are still poor. There’s no doubt. They’re not rich. Some of them have been able to get their own agricultural land since then using access to rights to land that they have and have formed an agricultural cooperative there to sell their product. Some of them have goats. Their children are all in a transitional school and some of them are going to the village school.
Skip to 10 minutes and 20 seconds Some of them it’s still doing stone breaking, but they’re doing it in a context of freedom. And what they said was there’s just still a few people here. They could identify a few families that were still in debt bondage. But the people that we’re making that decision at that time are now the people who do outreach in the surrounding villages. And they say, look, we came to freedom and you can do this too. And because it’s coming from them people believe them.
Skip to 10 minutes and 50 seconds So these are people who made a conscious decision to reach for freedom, have established themselves economically so that they have some stability, achieved that great dream of having your children actually attend school which you’ve never been able to do yourself, but now they’re reaching, they’re in a sense are becoming active citizens in the larger community and reaching out to even further villages who are also enslaved or still enslaved. How does that work? I mean some of them just go literally door to door. And it again, it was the women that we were talking about doing this. And it’s those one-to-one conversations that I think give people the space to consider their circumstances.
Skip to 11 minutes and 38 seconds And they’ve also set up a legal aid center right nearby, and that legal aid center is staffed by a young man who used to be a bonded labor himself and is, again, his whole family was in bonded labor, and he’s now a trained professional lawyer. He’s got his law degree and he’s the one that helps people represent their circumstances to the authorities. Wow. I’m also amazed that he would go from uneducated, enslaved person to a qualified lawyer in six years, nine years. Well he wasn’t part of this immediate community. His transition had been longer. So I had known him even before that point when he was still coming out of bonded labor and starting to work with PGS. He’s amazing.
Skip to 12 minutes and 27 seconds He’s very inspirational. I’m often struck by the fact that when we reach into the past and we look at people like Frederick Douglass and Equiano and Harriet Tubman and all these amazing people who have come out of slavery and then made such an enormous impact in anti-slavery movements of the past. And yet we tend to neglect, sadly, some of these remarkable heroes of today who have come from equally dire forms of hereditary slavery, and then once in freedom, begin to become national leaders, local leaders, lawyers, organizers, the lot. And the more that they can take the leadership, the better that those activities will be. Great. Jenny, thank you so much.
Home Grown Freedom 1
Ginny Baumann is Senior Programs Officer at The Freedom Fund, and formerly the Associate Director of Programs and Director of Partnerships at Free the Slaves.
She is a leading expert on community-oriented models for change. After working to develop the community-based model at Free the Slaves, about which you learned in the previous step, she now builds partnerships for Freedom Fund with local groups in key slavery hotspots around the world. These groups then fan out to impoverished and marginalised communities where slavery thrives, to educate slaves about their rights and organize them to break free. Her philosophy is to prioritise the empowerment of slavery survivors and communities at risk, rather than relying on traditional power structures to create change.
In this film, she joins Kevin Bales to discuss community-based liberation, including what different models of liberation and intervention can look like.
The film was shot at the Newington Green Unitarian Church in north London, one of England’s oldest Unitarian churches. It has historic ties to political radicalism and to 18th and 19th-century abolitionism.
After watching the film, tell us your responses to this film in the context of the history that the Newington Green Church evokes. Has community resistance changed today, from the examples that Arthur Torrington discussed in step 4.1? Drawing on what you know of past antislavery strategies - including those you have learned about from the historians in this course - share in the comments any strategies that seem particular useful for today’s communities. How could past strategies be adapted for the 21st century? Equally, which historical ideas seem so firmly rooted in their 18th and 19th-century moment that they have no equivalent for community action today?