Building Freedom in India

To produce three videos for Free the Slaves in Varanasi, India, we spent four days filming in two different villages. Both villages were a two-hour drive from our hotel, so we would wake up at 4 a.m. to reach the communities by sunrise. Twelve to fourteen hours later, we’d be back at the hotel, feeling exhausted both physically and mentally (and dirty!). Our work was challenging, but rewarding as always. We enjoyed every minute of it. Jordan also had many opportunities to snap photos of Cassie sleeping in the car to add to his growing collection, too. We’ll keep those to ourselves this time, though.

 

In the areas we visited, the brick kiln industry is king. The villagers we met work as brick makers, molding bricks by hand, a trade they learned from the generations passed down. Most of the community members we met were once enslaved at brick kilns, where they were threatened, beaten and not paid. Now living in freedom, most of them continue to work as brick makers, surviving on their daily wages at slavery-free brick kilns making 300 rupees a day (0.50 USD/day).

We spent two days in the first village, documenting the work of slavery survivors who now own their very own brick kiln. They work tirelessly molding bricks in the heat of the summer sun, but with joy, since they are not only free from slavery, but they are now earning a living by working for themselves as much or as little as they want. The ex-slaves are not making a salary for their current work efforts at the brick kiln, but in a few months when they begin selling the bricks they’re producing now, their income will be much greater than a brick maker’s salary. Not only are they profiting financially, they are also freeing others in slavery at nearby brick kilns. They’ve freed thousands, actually.

Watch the first video we produced “Building Freedom Brick by Brick”, the amazing story of the slavery survivor-owned brick kiln that boasts about their freedom.

 

For some background information, Free the Slaves works with local partners in countries highly affected by slavery. One of their local partners in India is MSEMVS, which shares in Free the Slaves’ community-based approach for fighting slavery. The group’s name in English means the “Society for Human Development and Women’s Empowerment.”

MSEMVS has more than 75 anti-slavery activists that are progressively dismantling entrenched systems of slavery at brick kilns, farms and quarries in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in India. They have transformed hundreds of communities into no-go zones for traffickers, fully eradicating slavery in more than 130 villages.

By creating Community Vigilance Committees (CVCs) that serve as watch-dog groups in at-risk communities, Free the Slaves and MSEMVS continually have their eyes and ears open through the villagers and are able to act on rumors about slave laborers and conduct raids with local government whenever they have enough evidence of slavery situations. As a result, entire communities are freed. Families, including children born into debt bondage slavery, finally return home after some who spent decades in slavery.

The second video we produced, “On the Front Lines in India,” highlights the partnership between Free the Slaves and MSEMVS.

 

The third video we produced, “What Freedom Looks Like” is the story of the other remote village that we visited and spent two days documenting. This is the story of an entire community, Sakdouri village, that was freed during a raid in 2012 where 18 families were trapped in a brick kiln working as slaves. One person managed to escape and contacted a previously freed village, which in turn notified MSEMVS and led to a rescue operation that freed 45 men, women and children. Free the Slaves South Asia Director, Supriya Awasthi, participated in the rescue and was able to help lead the survivors into freedom. Now three years into their freedom, Sakdouri village is a vibrant community that is passionate about freeing others from slavery. They too participate in CVC meetings with MSEMVS and Free the Slaves and they teach others about the basic human rights that they once didn’t know existed. This village has secured the rights of their community and its members, and was evaluated by the Free the Slaves South Asia Director, Supriya, as being a “fully-mature village” while we had the pleasure of documenting their story.

 

Now this makes a total of five videos that we’ve filmed and produced for Free the Slaves this year, two in Nepal and these three in India. We have two other videos complete too, from our time documenting their work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Free the Slaves is strategically releasing the videos we’ve produced for them — one video every two weeks for the next four months. They’ve just released the first video we produced in Nepal and posted on their blog about it. You can read here about the film series premiere “Face to Face with Slavery”.

As always, if you are moved or inspired by the work of Free the Slaves and MSEMVS, we encourage you to visit their websites and consider joining the movement.

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