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Slavery to-day page 2

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The third 'analogous system' is serfdom, and the line which divides serfdom from slavery is so exceedingly fine as to be scarcely perceptible. In Hyderabad, for example, a system has been disclosed in a report issued by Mr. S. K. Iyengar, who was appointed a special investigation officer. This officer undertook an enquiry into the systems of serfdom obtaining in Hyderabad, and selected for this purpose twelve villages. Mr. Iyengar divides the system of serfdom into a twofold category: the bhagela and the jattipani. In one of these systems Mr. Iyengar says that no wages are paid to the workers and if they refuse they are whipped and then dragged to the fields. In one village in which the investigation was made the rights exercised by the masters over the serfs are absolute.

In Abyssinia also there appears to be a system of serfdom running parallel with slavery. Monsieur Angoulvant, formerly Governor of French West Africa, later of French Equatorial Africa and a member of the League of Nations Slavery Commission, expressed the view that side by side with slavery in Abyssinia exists a system of domestic serfdom.

At the same time there are forms of serfdom which cannot be said to amount to property ownership of persons, for, as the Temporary Commission on Slavery said in its Report to the Council of the League, 'There is no doubt that, in addition to slavery proper, which admits the traditional conception of a master's ownership of a human being, serfdom also exists under which this conception is excluded altogether, since the serf, if he remains with his master, does so of his own free will.'

Finally, there is the very large category of women who are obtained for various purposes by means of purchase disguised as dowry. Let it be admitted, as it must be, that this practice is largely a social custom and that it has good elements in it; let it also be admitted that the natives draw a line between free women obtained by dowry and women purchased as slaves. When all this and much more has been said it cannot be claimed that the system is one which should be perpetuated or that abuses of a most serious kind are not often committed.

The Temporary Slavery Commission of the League, which included one woman, were apparently unanimous in the view that native marriage customs have given rise to abuses which in some cases have involved a regular trade in wives. They were unable to regard the well-known 'lobolo' (The 'lobolo' system may be defined as follows. A man obtains his wife by a payment of cattle or goods. This payment may take him many years and has the advantage of forming a kind of insurance for good treatment. On the other hand, it is becoming a system not only of selling, but even of leasing wives on the part of the chiefs and is now resulting in grave abuses.) system as a form of slavery, but they held that the system of concubinage in certain territories is, on the other hand, much more likely to lead to traffic in slaves, since the acquisition of a concubine is usually accompanied by the payment of a certain sum which constitutes a real sale of the woman.

The treatment of these millions of slaves varies widely; it is probably true that the majority are well treated, but as Professor Forster, an eye-witness of Chinese slavery, says: The sale of the girl by the parents is in itself such a shock to the child's self-respect, that it utterly destroys forever that feeling of individual worthwhileness and self-confidence. The foundation on which the child's personality is to be reared is thus swept away. The stimulus to moral and spiritual growth having been subtracted, the whole development of the child as a human being is arrested.

A missionary in China who is unwilling that her name should be published writes upon the question of treatment in a manner which is probably as fair a statement as can well be made: In some cases the girls are well and sufficiently clothed and fed, and treated well, but from what I have seen, or from inquiries made of Chinese, I fear that most slave girls are very hardly and very often cruelly treated. I have personally come across cases of unimaginable cruelty, which I am told are by no means isolated instances.

The plain psychological fact is that the ownership of one person by another too often excites the worst passions, more particularly when the wishes and desires of the owner are thwarted. The potential brutality of ownership is sometimes equally apparent in the treatment of a horse or a dog. Shakespeare's understanding of the mentality of ownership is shown by the words which he puts into the mouth of Shylock:

What judgment shall I dread, doing no wrong?
You have among you many a purchased slave,
Which like your asses and your dogs and mules,
You use in abject and in slavish parts,
Because you bought them.

Authenticated instances of present-day barbarities inflicted on slaves leave little or nothing lacking in refinements of torture. In China there are constant reports of branding the slaves with hot irons, the well-known torture of amputating joints of fingers and toes, the boiling water and the boiling oil punishment, the hanging up by hands and thumbs - indeed, as one surveys the mass of reports upon the treatment of the child slaves of China, it is doubtful whether the misery and degradation of the mass and the acute agonies of many are surpassed under any system of slavery in the world. We know but little of the cruelties inflicted upon the slaves of Arabia and the Persian Gulf, but Dr. Harrison, a missionary of some fourteen years' experience, tells us that these are of such a terrible nature that the mere thought of the punishment to be inflicted will almost cause the victim to lose his reason: When one of these negro slaves starts up as if suddenly crazed and runs round shouting and gesticulating and talking earnestly in a changed voice as if a new personality had possessed him even the hard Arab masters are a good deal awed and hesitate to inflict the punishment they had planned. (Dr. Harrison, The Arab at Home).

The same conditions apply to Abyssinia. Lord Noel-Buxton tells us in his report that 'slavery is fundamental to the whole economic system of Abyssinia, that the majority of slaves render domestic services and are not usually put to hard work, some of them are even treated as members of the family.' On the other hand, M. Kessel, a French traveller who visited Abyssinia in 1930, has told how while he sat at dinner with a young Abyssinian noble (who had been brought up by French priests) pitiful cries of a child were heard, which were explained by the host as coming from a little boy slave (belonging to a neighbour) who was tied up for 'correction.' The host sent a slave with a message to say that his guests were disturbed - more blows were heard, then silence. Kessel discovered later that while they sat at dinner the child had died under the strokes of the sjambok (whip). Reliable witnesses say that in the remoter regions the slaves are subjected to the chain, the lash, the stocks, and in the case of baby boys gelding in order to increase their market value.

There are still those who defend slavery as an institution. They are unable to plumb the depths of suffering into which these millions of helpless people are plunged by the degrading influence of slavery upon the owner. It is true that they become occasionally indignant at reports of cruel and atrocious suffering inflicted upon particular slaves, but they quiet their misgivings with the hope that such cruelties are exceptional. Their mentality with regard to slave-trading and slave-raiding is different. These proceedings arouse immediate indignation, but the tragedy is that people do not see that slave-raiding and slave-trading will only come to an end with the suppression of slave-owning, or, stated quite crudely, that it is only when the market has been abolished that the supply will cease.

The story of supplying the market has been and still is being written in the blood and tears of its victims. The recruiter, the raider, the trader are each of them to-day playing their dreadful parts in this unholy traffic, they ply their instruments of torture as of old; the whip, the stock, the branding irons, chains and yokes, the cutlass and the gun. Let there be no delusion, these agents and their instruments are just as necessary to the institution of slavery as a slaughterhouse is to slaughter.

There is not a single law of the decalogue which is not broken daily in order to supply the market; envy, hatred, avarice and malice, outrage and murder, are the normal accompaniments of the trade. It is an institution run for profit, and 'the love of money is the root of all evil.' To-day more than at any previous period in history we are citizens of the world family, and it is surely the duty of every man and woman to examine with firm courage the cruel lot of so many fellow members of that world family. Too often their sufferings are hidden, but sometimes it is possible to lift the curtain far enough to get an insight into some of the incidentals of slavery.

It may be true that slave-breeding - however degrading it may be - involves in its early stages the least amount of cruelty, but it presupposes entire lack of respect for human personality. The practice is now believed to be limited to some three or four areas, but no area where slave-owning obtains can be regarded as immune. The rearing of slaves was one of the revolting accompaniments of slavery that stirred the late Maharajah of Nepal to action. But in denouncing the practice he was careful to base his plea for its abolition on practical as well as moral grounds. In his emancipation speech he devoted one section to what he called the 'inhuman practice' of breeding child slaves, and declared this to be the worst feature of the institution of slavery. Facing the masters in the audience he asked them whether they really thought this practice brought any gain to them, and he invited their attention to a set of figures which he had prepared for their information. He took as his basic figure a woman bearing six children and pointed out that each child would only fetch 35 rupees, a figure which he stated was far below what the owner could earn by other methods of investment.

The Maharajah stated that it had been contended that better prices could be obtained for certain children. In reply to this objection he said, 'Those who say that they get better prices at prevailing rates should remember that a woman of child-bearing age would also cost more than the legal price, and that the larger sum and the other expenses, if invested as in the "appendix" would have brought them sums which it is very difficult for them to obtain by sale of children. Again, the woman may die, or may turn- out to be barren, or less prolific - and as infant mortality is so heavy here, the child also may die before attaining a saleable age. These probabilities discount greatly the expectations built by the masters.' The Maharajah concluded that 'slave rearing then, either for labour or for sale, is not the profitable business you believe it to be.'

A kindred practice and, according to the Maharajah of Nepal, an equally reprehensible one, was prevalent in order to supply the slave markets. Under this practice the slave-owners were accustomed to give slave girls to share the bed of men who were too poor and needy to sustain any claim over the children, and thus the child became the property of the owner. As the Maharajah said, 'it is by such demoralizing ways that slaves can be bred for the market bringing an apparent profit to the master of the girl,' and he concluded: If selling slave children, parting them from their mothers at a tender age, is reprehensible, this way of breeding them is more so. It would not surprise us, after this, to be told that if disappointed with one man in the number of children begotten, the master in some cases compels the girl to share the bed of another just as a breeder does with his cattle and lets one bull after another serve a cow.

In 1930 the Editor of Le Matin organised and despatched to Abyssinia, the Red Sea and Arabia, a highly competent Commission of Enquiry. The leader of this Commission was M. Kessel. Other members of the Commission were Lieut. Lablache-Combier and Dr. Emile Peyre. M. Kessel, in one of the twenty articles published in Le Matin describing the work of the Commission, dealt with the question of supplying the slave market with slaves. Dealing particularly with the Hedjaz, he stated that the supply of human merchandise is kept up in two ways: the first of these is that of 'breeding for the market,' and the second the overseas trade. With regard to the first he declared that 'There are organised means at work to multiply the offspring; there even exists a corps of female agents who keep in touch with the owners on the control of reproduction on the selective principle, and are rewarded when a child is born.'

M. Marcel Griaule, a French scientific investigator, went out to Abyssinia apparently with no idea of studying the question of slavery, but it was thrust upon his attention wherever he went. In one part of his report, which was issued by the International Labour Office of the League of Nations, he also deals with the question of slave production for the market and states that: The slave is utilised at the will of his master in any and every department of ordinary life, including reproduction in the case of a woman. In fact, just as live stock is placed in favourable conditions for breeding, so a male may be assigned to a female slave in order that their offsprings may add to their owner's property. It is however more usual to let these people form ties as they will, so long as it does not interfere with their work; moreover they can be separated at any time just as may suit their owners. A woman slave may not take advantage of her pregnancy to stop her work for a time. She continues her work until the actual day of her delivery and resumes it almost immediately afterwards, Only the desire of the master not to depreciate his goods by demanding exertions which might injure the mother's health and lessen the value of the child ever softens the rigours of this custom.

We are sometimes told that children are born free in Abyssinia; this may be so in certain provinces, but according to M. Griaule it is certainly not the case with children bred for the market, for as he says: the child belongs to the owner of the mother at the day of birth, even if the father is a free man; a free father has the right to buy his child's freedom.... The owner has theoretically the right to dispose of the child from the moment of its birth; he can take the baby from the breast and sell it. As a matter of fact, it is clear that the owner's interests demand that the new-born child should live under the best possible conditions, so that he may be a fine specimen if sold young or that he may develop normally and become a vigorous worker. These two reasons usually prevail to prevent the child being taken from his mother until he is weaned.

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