Slavery Everywhere | Pakistan Today

Slavery Everywhere

  • Slavery became peonage

Slavery was ended in the United States in 1866, one year after the Thirteenth Amendment. But the states of Alabama, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri, Florida, Tennessee and South Carolina found a way around it. It was called ‘peonage,’ from which the British introduced the word, ‘peon’ as an office boy in the sub-continent and the word is still used in some places in India and Pakistan. Peonage meant that arrested Blacks could be leased out to work for White men who could then use them for all kinds of work as they did the slaves. To enable this, they established ‘laws’ known as Black Codes. For example, in Louisiana, it was illegal for a Black man to preach to a Black congregation without obtaining permission from the police. If they were caught, they could be arrested and fined. And if they could not pay the fine, which needless to say was stupendously high, the Black man was forced to work for an individual or go to jail where he would work until his debt was paid off.

An unemployed Black person, he or she, could be arrested and imprisoned for vagrancy and loitering. It was worse in South Carolina where if the parent of a Black child was considered a vagrant, the judicial system allowed the police or some other government agency to “apprentice” the child to an “employer.” Black men could be held until they were 21 and females until they were 18. Their so-called owner had the right to inflict punishment on the child even for disobedience and to recapture them if he or she ran away. Peonage is systemic racism. It was established and perpetrated by government systems. Such acts of racism were inbuilt into the systems hence systemic racism. So peonage meant the re-enslavement of Blacks through the prison system and at one time, more than 800,000 Blacks were part of the peonage system. It ended around 1940. What enabled it was the wording of the Thirteenth Amendment which said that, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States…” What hypocrisy!  Thus the smallest of transgressions was made into a crime. Once again, this is peonage. Because every white Southern farmer hated the ending of slavery, Black courts were introduced as a way to appease them.

Jahalat abounds in this Islamic Republic of Pakistan from the highest levels of government down to the ‘peon’ as it were. You see it all the time and can only lament. In their ignorance, they also violate some of the fundamental human rights which are universal

 I submit that slavery and peonage are still embedded in Man’s DNA. We have been going on about US slavery for the last two or three articles, but lest we start gloating, we should remember that everyone is a victim of it in one way or another. Slavery was actually started by the Arabs and is also referred to in the Holy Quran but not called an ‘abomination.’ The first slaves in Africa were captured by Arabs and because the British were then the global overlords, they took them and sold them to White Americans. The Arabs even brought slavery to the Indian subcontinent. The first slaves were brought and sold by an Arab raider, Mohammad bin Qasim to Sind, then in British India. He converted many people to Islam, whom he called ‘Momins,’ which means ‘true believer.’ This is from where the word ‘Memon’ comes from. The graves of his soldiers can still be found in a place called Makli, near Karachi.

In human crimes against people continuing to this day, a few days ago, a woman in Pakistan was stoned to death by her husband and his brother, because she was somehow violating the law of ‘vani’ which is a family against whom something is proved to a village court and the punishment is to hand over one or more girls regardless of how old they are to the so-called victim. Another local law is the exchange of women as wives which is called ‘karo kari.’ In Islam, no one especially a girl, can be forced into marriage by anyone except by choice. And the most horrible practice of all is so called ‘honour killing’ which should more aptly be called ‘dishonour killing’ in which even the mother and father of the victim participate. What kind of mindset is that?

Sadly, such practices exist everywhere. In Indian villages, ‘satti’ or wife burning on the husband’s funeral pyre still occurs. Such things are pre-Stone Age. What can one say? I suspect that even cannibalism exists in certain parts of God’s world.

Actually, one of the main purposes of life is to gather knowledge and shun ignorance. Ignorance is a sin of one of the worst kinds. One of the fundamental human rights in Islam is that every person should be able to develop his or her mind to the fullest and it is the duty of the State to provide the wherewithal for that, and yet in this Islamic republic of ours, we have customs and even laws which would make even people from the Age of Ignorance, which is called ‘jahiliya,’ blush. The pre-Islamic era is called jahiliya and from there stems the word jahalat which means ‘ignorance,’ though I am assured by people who claim to know better that even the jahiliya was an age of the flourishing of arts and culture.

The point is that jahalat abounds in this Islamic Republic of Pakistan from the highest levels of government down to the ‘peon’ as it were. You see it all the time and can only lament. In their ignorance, they also violate some of the fundamental human rights which are universal.

Thomas Jefferson was a great political mind. But he was also a slave owner. So today the debate rages in the USA whether his memorabilia should be removed. We should all remember that human beings are products of their time and what is considered terrible today by society was considered acceptable then.

Humayun Gauhar

Humayun Gauhar is a veteran columnist in Pakistan and editor of Blue Chip magazine.