The Insidious Nature of Modern Day Slavery

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Nepali girls recruited into the sex industry in India. Source: Glamour Nepal

Recently one evening in class, a student used the example of modern day slavery to explain a concept, something which the lecturer had a hard time accepting, at least to my observations. When people talk or believe modern day slavery to be something that is nonexistent, I guess the only thing their minds can conjure up is the fact that slavery of the kind that saw the blacks and convicts shackled, bound and collared ended a long time ago. The days when people were sold off as slaves in countries like Australia, and this too in broad daylight in the open market places, that day has perhaps long come and gone. But slavery in itself, it exists in many forms even today, and I do not believe that the concept of enslaving people would ever die out as long as we humans continue to exploit our resources, human and otherwise, in our quest for power and wealth.

Slavery is the concept that drives and thrives in the example of the little Nepalese girl brought to India in the name of giving her an honest wage earning job to make ends meet back at home, the girl who is then sold into prostitution in a bustling city that cares naught how or where the underage child who services you comes from. This girl who finds herself saddled with HIV or some other sexually transmitted disease with devastating consequences, or a pregnancy way before she is past her teens, or most often than not, the whole package deal. The shackles of slavery are what the baby she gives birth to is born with, a life of servitude in the oldest profession in the world, or worse.

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On Child Labor in Philippines – Source: Al Jazeera

What is it other than slavery when child labor is exploited in different parts of the world, for instance in the carpet weaving industry in Turkey, where young and nimble fingers are overworked until they are cracked and bleeding, until their fingers are no longer able to work through the weaves and loops. What can you call the concept of children who are forced into doing dirty, dangerous and difficult jobs such as gold mining in the Philippines where young ones are lowered into pits as deep as 25 meters on a rope, pits where oxygen is pumped in manually, shallower pits not even getting this, which as a result has seen many a death of child laborers through suffocation? What do you call this, but modern day slavery when these children are forced to leave school, leave their childhood behind and start earning their keep for survival?

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Migrant Worker Exploitation. Source: Amnesty International

What do you call the Bangladeshi man for instance, who sells off his assets, mortgages his property and becomes embroiled in a vicious cycle of debt that prevents him from seeking a better life for himself or his family ever again, all because he had to pay off the agent at home who promised him lucrative work in a country like Malaysia or Maldives? He arrives in host country only to find his passport has been withheld, forcing him to work in sectors that provides little or no occupational and safety measures, working for mere pittance in jobs that the locals shun. He is exploited in every single manner possible, churning in a hopeless situation that doesn’t seem likely to improve in countries that look upon their migrant workforce with abject hostility. What do you call this vile form of exploitation where either he dies from a work related accident that could have been prevented, or he returns home years and years later, having finally served off his debt, a broken shell of a man from the one that left, the one who was optimistic that he would be able to turn his family’s luck around.

What should people call most city dwellers caught up in the cycle of “work -> pay rent -> die”; all because they were not lucky enough to be born into the 1% of the families of the world that holds 90% of its wealth? They live their life paycheck to paycheck, not because they spend frivolously, but without having made a frivolous expense all their lives, just surviving in the demands made on the urban poor living in a city that mocks at them with how far they are lagging behind the rest of them.

Modern day slavery may not take place in broad daylight, where auctions are held at the market to sell off little girls and boys into the world of prostitution, whereby they are treated to the ugliest side of human nature, where no one hears their cries for help. Modern day slavery is more insidious and vicious an animal in the way it manipulates, eludes and evades the established systems in place. Majority of us are shielded from this ugly side life here on Earth. Perhaps, the most blatant hypocrisy being that this form of exploitation is even “accepted” when it comes to the capitalist theory of development, where capitalist exploitation of the working class of nations lying on the semi-periphery and periphery are seen as the unnecessary evils of development.

Modern day slavery thrives in every corner of the globe. As consumers, most of us are guilty of contributing to this cycle. Buying that t-shirt manufactured in a barely standing with multiple hazards in existence factory in Bangladesh which might burn down any minute. The love for handwoven carpets that has you buying one at an exorbitant price for your father who loves the intricate designs, only mere pittance of which is paid to the child whose nimble fingers are now no more. Perhaps the gold necklace that you just bought for your wife that contains gold mined by a child whose life has been extinguished by the lack of oxygen in the pit in which he worked more than 12 hours a day; until modern day slavery took away his life, the slavery which some cannot bring themselves to believe exists.

Such is modern day slavery.

Such is the insidious nature of human exploitation at work.

Maldives and the Not So Curious Case of its #CWExit

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Foreign Minister of the Maldives – Dr. Mohamed Asim. Source: BBC.com

It is a widely accepted notion amongst intellectuals of political science and international relations that foreign policies of countries for the most part remain stable over long periods of time. It is not so without reason. International relations are forged, developed and nurtured over long & hefty periods of time. Countries put great effort into these relations because it somehow or other mutually benefits them to be in a state of cooperation than conflict. Because if otherwise, a misquoted statement from a public official of country A about country B could pave the way for potential disaster, if not for the first line of defense provided by the diplomatic ties established between these countries.

Intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), i.e. entities formed by states coming together such as the United Nations (UN), The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to name a few, are established for various reasons. Whether for economic or defense needs or to strengthen bilateral or multilateral relations, these entities form a platform for countries to engage in and benefit from each other, in terms of trade deals and other such mutually beneficial ventures.

Entities like the UN, even though might not hold absolute authority over countries given the state of anarchy that exists when it comes to a universal government of sorts to oversee affairs of all nations, even with the limitations present, it however does provide nations with a sort of check and balance mechanism within the existing framework of the establishment. This helps member countries to work with especially those nations that are considered to be taking a turn for the hostile or are seen shortchanging their citizens on issues of human rights, democracy and freedom etc., so that its citizens in the least have somewhere to turn to when all avenues of justice and hope they seek are not to be found on their home turf.

Similarly for the Maldives, ever since it gained its independence from the British in 1965, it has formed bilateral and multilateral ties with a lot of nations on the diplomatic front. For a country such as ours that is small and seemingly insignificant when considering the larger scale of things, these ties are essential to our very existence. A country, a large part of whose income is derived from high end tourism is in no place to snub the international community over reasons that are as or more abhorrent to say the least.

The news yesterday that the incumbent government of Maldives had finally had it with the Commonwealth and decided to leave the body was one that sent shock waves through citizens of the nation. Considering the fact that Maldives has been a member of the Commonwealth since 1982 and going 34 years – not a small number of years in my opinion, this time, Maldives has with pride, joined the ranks of esteemed countries like that of Zimbabwe which in 2003 announced that it was leaving the Commonwealth after being suspended in March 2002 over serious issues in its elections.

The Commonwealth

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Flag of the Commonwealth. Source: Flags.net

Formerly known as the British Commonwealth, the Commonwealth of today came into formal existence in 1949 and forms a loose association of former British colonies and current dependencies, along with some nations with no significant historical ties to Britain. It was not until 1947 when India and Pakistan achieved their independence from the British that the Commonwealth as we know it today emerged. Even though the word British was dropped from the name then, the British monarch remains the official head of the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth charter sets an ambitious agenda for member countries. To bring together values such as democracy, human rights and the rule of law – asserting its commitment towards the development of such societies in its member states, all of which spells trouble for countries like the Maldives, that continually seems to be testing the boundaries of what would be acceptable or perhaps of late, not giving a damn about what is the accepted norm for a government that spouts democratic principles to be part of its establishment and setup.

What the Commonwealth Brings to the Table

Unlike the UN, in theory, members of the Commonwealth have equal say, and this does not depend on their size or economic status. One of the benefits to member states being the fact that it gives smaller states just like the Maldives, a platform in the arena of international politics and diplomatic circles – in other words it lends a voice to punitive nations like ours and the room to engage with bigger nations that could prove to be helpful in outlining economic and other such policies that have a broader positive impact on the country and its people.

While most would argue that a Heads of Government Meeting every two years is hardly something to boast about, the Commonwealth does come with benefits for member states in areas such as that of immigration. Especially during a time where Muslims are under constant scrutiny and threat of being denied entrance into certain parts of the world owing to the rise in threat of global terrorism, being a member of Commonwealth does afford citizens of a member country like that of Maldives, a cushion from the blowback if otherwise.

As a Commonwealth citizen, if you are looking to immigrate to Commonwealth nations, you maybe entitled to visa-free entry if the country you are traveling from is deemed to be in “good standing” – a line I believe that the Maldives has already crossed. Bringing to mind the harrowing couple of weeks right after Maldives snubbed its neighbor India on the GMR deal where citizens had to line up near the Indian High Commission from dusk till morning in the hopes of getting their visa approved in order to seek medical treatment in India suffices as an example of how difficult things can get – if countries were inclined to do so.

In terms of immigration, it the Commonwealth also does help member states when trying to gain entrance into non-member countries as well. Maldives is not a country with many embassies established on our shores. This means that, as a Commonwealth member, the British embassy or consulate can step into play the role as required for you to get the proper documents.

Being a Commonwealth member also offers member states with access to participate in the Commonwealth Games, an international sporting event that countries like the Maldives would be hard-pressed to gain entrance to if not. This is tied to the dreams and aspirations of many a young athlete who works with sheer determination and focus towards making a name for themselves in an international setting such as what the Games offer.

The Commonwealth also comes bearing for the studious amongst our young to seek fully funded study opportunities to developed nations which if otherwise, children from even middle class families of a country like ours can only ever dream of. Once again, the aspirations of the young who would lead our country tomorrow are tied to a valuable resource that is hard to come by these days, especially given the lack of scholarships forthcoming from the government itself, not to mention how scarce these chance are, even from other such international organizations and countries that are keen on providing students with such golden opportunities.

Needless to say, though the benefits afforded might not seem to amount to much in the face of 150 million US$ dollars that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia can grant to the Maldives, being a member of the Commonwealth does offer certain privileges to citizens of member states, the loss of which might not be so easy to deal with in the long run.

The Criticism towards Commonwealth

Commonwealth is largely criticized for the passive role it plays when it comes to actively promoting the values embedded in its Charter. It was only in 1995 that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) was established with 8 ministers, its sole purpose being to deal with governments that are unyielding in their violation of the principles of the Commonwealth. CMAG also comes equipped with the power to take punitive collective measures such as imposing sanctions or suspending members who are seen to violate its Charter and principles.

Even with the establishment of CMAG, Commonwealth is seen to be an entity that takes the easy way out more often than not. Commonwealth’s lack of actions consistent with its principles in the case of Sri Lanka’s human rights abuses under the reign of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is notable. Another example is of how Nigeria was partially suspended in 1995 for hanging a human rights activist Ken Saro-Wira, while the body largely ignored the abuse of the Ogoni people that had been the root of Saro-Wira’s campaign.

The Commonwealth is also damned for its “insidious postcolonial politics” that prevents Britain and other affluent members such as Canada and Australia from providing a better leadership that could perhaps bridge the gap between the Commonwealth and other more focused and efficient entities such as the European Union.

CMAG & Maldives – A Tale with a Bittersweet Ending

A CMAG meeting in action. Source: vnews.mv

A CMAG meeting in action. Source: vnews.mv

It was the CMAG’s involvement in the affairs of the Maldives following the coup which took place on February 7th of 2012, that ousted the first democratically elected President Mohamed Nasheed that saw emergence of rhetoric from members of the rogue government that Maldives should leave the Commonwealth. Some members of parliament were seen mocking the head of the Commonwealth herself in their attempt to sound important enough so that the powers they worship would be well impressed with how they were earning their entitled position.

CMAG placed Maldives on its agenda following the coup from March 2012 to March 2013, until a Commonwealth backed inquiry into the power transfer found it to be a constitutional one. Going into the nitty-gritties involving how this particular event unfolded is beyond the scope of this article. With the establishment of the “truth”, the rhetoric to leave the Commonwealth also more or less died down along with it, not surprising given that the pressure on the Maldivian government eased off for the time being.

It was in 2015, just last year, during the turbulent political trials that saw the arrest and imprisonment of top opposition political figures in the country and some influential members from the government’s cabinet itself that saw CMAG once again intervene into the affairs of the Maldives.

Ex-Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon then is reported to have said that the Maldives “will seriously consider its membership at the Commonwealth” if it were to be placed on the agenda of CMAG for a second time in 4 years. Furthermore, Dunya criticized CMAG for continually pushing the Maldives for reform when no “serious” violations existed in the country and also lamented the fact that the Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma was too trigger happy to take action without giving Maldives the time to follow due process. Dunya also bemoaned the fact that being placed on CMAG’s agenda posed reputational risks to the country, putting its economy and democratic governance at risk.

So what made the government finally bite the bullet and make a decision that made Maldives appear in headlines of almost all major global newspapers? The reason being that the Maldives once again found its way into the CMAG’s agenda on the meeting that was held on 23rd of September of this year, where CMAG expressed “deep disappointment” in the worsening political situation of the country. This meant that the Maldives had to buckle down and show CMAG that they mean business when it comes to the reforms they have been promising to the group in a bid to buy time to do whatever it is that the government wanted to. This decision by the CMAG of course did not come without reason.

CMAG listed out 5 concrete reasons as to why Maldives might face imminent suspension, some of which includes the flawed and politically motivated trials to imprison those that were deemed to be political rivals of the incumbent President, how the parliament of the country has been hijacked by Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and is used as a tool to oppress the people – the recent ratification of the draconian Defamation Bill suffices as just one example, and furthermore, the government’s seeming reluctance and will to stem the spread of radical ideology which was also raised as a point of grave concern.

Intervention attempts by various teams such as the UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers which in 2013 recommended the Maldives to strengthen its judicial independence, which of course has gone unheeded, and attempts by the CMAG itself to try and work out a way to get all political parties together to discuss a way forward, the latest of which involved requirement for all party talks which was headed for trouble right from the onset.

Thus, a regime that seems to be distancing itself further and further away from nations and entities that actually demands of the government to uphold principles of democracy and good governance upon which the country’s Constitution itself is based on, it should be of no surprise that the ultimate decision made by the executive is to leave the Commonwealth, thus plunging the citizens of the country into times of more uncertainty, questions about most of which could not be answered by representatives of the regime themselves. “The decision to leave the Commonwealth was difficult, but inevitable” does not suffice as an explanation for a judgement reached by the executive, that could plunge the lives of Maldivians into unforeseeable difficulties in the near future.

If one were to ask why the need to isolate ourselves from those nations and entities that would attempt to interfere? They would have to look no further than the damning evidence reported on Stealing Paradise, Al Jazeera’s recent documentary into the massive corruption allegations involving the core political elite of the country, which ultimately points the finger towards the man himself.

I rest my case.

Women and the Independence Paradox

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Source: teenskepchick.org

In today’s world, the line of demarcation that existed between the traditional roles that defined men and women have blurred over and become interchanged to an extent where people have to walk around on eggshells for fear of blurting out something that might not go with the times, i.e. the sentiments of the modern and independent woman that we have come to identify with today. Understandable, as even in today’s world, the misogyny continues to thrive, the sexism that has being around for centuries still lingers, in some places more so than others. Every inch of independence that we women have carved out for ourselves in this male dominant world of ours came and comes with a price. We fight for it. We go against the wishes of our fathers for it. We disappoint our mothers for it because they just do not understand why we cannot follow in their footsteps and obey in every path of our lives. We break up with our boyfriends for it, because they try to control and dominate our lives to an extent that it is difficult to identify your own self and what sets it apart from him. We divorce husbands for it, because staying with them would mean losing your soul, one single piece at a time.

The whole argument of equality between sexes brings forth the independent woman – the woman who can do it all and be it all, even when the rest of the world is trying to bring her down. The woman who can climb corporate ladders and also be the super mom and wife on home turf. In societies that predominantly leans towards women being the homemaker, this puts an additional strain on the woman to keep up. The husband who more or less is a bed partner and sperm donor and of course the bread winner in conservative speak so to say, does not see the career woman his wife is, nor does he understand the need for it. He does not want to be saddled with bringing up their children and the housework that goes along with it. All they want to do at the end of the day is to come home, eat home cooked food, see that their children are well fed and going about their lives as they should and perhaps go out with friends or lounge on the couch with some footy on until its time for bed.

Meanwhile the woman, having after spent the same amount of time or perhaps even more at work, comes back to a home that she needs to put into order. Countless are the tasks a woman has to do in order to turn a house into a home. It does not magically happen overnight. There is laundry to do, fold, sort and iron, beds to change, bathrooms to clean, food to cook, homework to look after – and the list goes on. The woman struggles with both roles, all because she was educated and brought up to believe that she could have it all. And why shouldn’t she?

This puts the woman in a position where she forces herself to become self-reliant in so many ways. There is a saying that goes, if you want something done right, get it done yourself. So the woman takes on more than her share of the burden of keeping house. She fixes the broken, takes care of the seemingly mundane tasks that men often are absentminded about, or rather chooses to be sometimes because in the end the wife will get to it. And of course there is the fact that nothing he ever does is good enough for the wife. And the story goes.

This long ramble here brings me to a point. Where we women come to a point at which we have to do everything by ourselves. There is no leaning on another person, there is no asking for help – you are the fix it, can do it, want to do it wonder woman. You become this unstoppable force that at times “emasculates” the man, all because he sees his role as the provider for the family, the one who has to take care of the “manly” stuff around the house eroding away. You don’t see it. Nor do you have time for it. Because come tomorrow, you have to get up and go through the same grind all over again. And there is that report your boss requires for tomorrow morning’s meeting to get done. Who has the time for mundane complains?

When at last you come to a point where you are overwhelmed, and need someone else to take charge, that help is nowhere to be found. You have pushed away your well meaning mother if she is around, because you do not want to burden her in her old age. Bewildered, she has stopped asking. You cannot ask from your siblings, because they have too much going on in their lives. Or you have never been the sort to ask from them. You have stopped asking your friends, because hey, they are also busy with their lives, husbands and kids or workloads of their own to worry over. At times you have felt smug over just how well put together your life is in comparison to theirs, but now you wonder, is it really? Your husband, if you are still married, has no clue as to whether you are feeling overwhelmed. Because it has been years since you have needed him for anything, except perhaps to change a light bulb five years back, or pick up his underwear from the floor. So where does all this lead to?

Becoming someone who is self-reliant is part of the journey a woman makes towards being labeled as an independent. One of the lessons that my father taught us from a very young age was to become educated. His advice was to be smart enough so that we would not be left with broken pieces that we cannot figure out how to put together if our life falls apart. His advice has definitely seen me through a lot of rough patches. I have always gone out of my way to assert my sense and need for being independent. Even though our religion puts it as the duty of the husband to provide for his wife and keep her in comfort of the kind she is used to, I don’t feel right unless I earn my own keep. I want that financial independence, I want my opinions to be heard, I want to be respected, I want the whole damn cake so to speak.

There is a friend of mine, who found herself diagnosed with a potentially terminal disease that found herself on the other side of the equation. She is the self reliant sort, even today. So when she found out, and for the first time needed the emotional support from her spouse, it was nowhere to be found. Because unknowingly, with our need for self reliance and independence, we do tend to push away the people that loves us and wants to be there for us. We tend to stop communicating, because we no longer want to be known as the wife that won’t stop nagging. Or be labeled as someone who is so helpless that she requires constant need, care and attention. And so it goes.

At what point will we realize that we are potentially harming ourselves in never asking for help when we need it? Will we realize it when we are sick and unable to even move a muscle and all that your spouse does is ask you to go to the doctor and sort it out? Or will that make you even more determined to become stronger than you were before? I believe that the communication gap is an issue here, whereby at a certain point in most relationships, the back and forth just stops – you are too tired to argue, or its just not worth the hassle. Your spouse believes you have everything under control, and you don’t mind as long as he doesn’t bother you. So life heads into a loop from which there is no escape, for which there is no pause or undo button. Life once lived, is gone. The moment you just had is now well into the past. But somewhere along the way, I think as women we have to ask ourselves, is there a middle ground we can work with when it comes to being indomitably independent? Or has that moment already come and gone, never to return.

Food for thought perhaps.