View Full Version : Romance in Bollywood By Aakar Patel - 3rd May 2015

3rd May 2015, 10:41 AM
A lot of what I read on Facebook turns me off — homespun philosophy, quotations by famous people, witticisms, some with double entendres, beauty pageants, announcements that somebody is just about to enter or leave a restaurant in Budapest where the paprika was too hot, birthdays, with requests to send greetings, people repeatedly changing their profile picture every four days and other trivia. But occasionally, very occasionally, I come across something that catches my attention that makes me grit my teeth and hunt for my Samurai sword. Such a story was the one that Aziz Allahwalla and Tinker Osman Ali shared with me last week. It is a tale of courage and defiance and unrequited valour that has a touch of Dickensian gloom about it. It is the chronicle of Iqbal Masih, “a little guy who is more of a man than most men walking around, who has done more in the 11 short years of his life for others than most have done in their lifetime!” If you feel like skipping this article because you have a hangover or want to watch cricket on the telly or are getting late for your brunch I fully understand. Because nobody really wants to read about the kids that society rejected a long time ago or about crimes that are constantly being committed against children.

Iqbal Masih’s story is typical of life in the village and in the slums of the big cities. Born in 1983 in a poor rural Christian family just outside the city limits of Lahore, all the little fellow ever knew was hardship and deprivation. He was sold in bonded labour at an early age to the owner of a carpet weaving business. Why? Because his father had taken a loan from the same carpet weaving boss in order to marry off Iqbal’s elder brother. It was the father’s way of repaying the loan he had taken. The poor mite worked daily for 12 hours, seven days a week. When he was 10 he managed to escape from forced captivity. But he was caught by the police and brought back to his native place and returned to the carpet weaver. He escaped once again and this time he joined the Bonded Labour Liberation Front of Pakistan. He worked with this organisation tirelessly so he could free children like himself and with the help of his juvenile colleagues was successful in freeing from bondage around 3,000 children. And then, when he was only 11-year-old in 1995, he was shot dead.

As this is Pakistan and not the United Kingdom, nobody really knows or will ever know who killed him. Was it somebody hired by the owner of the carpet weaving enterprise? Or a farmer, perhaps, as somebody maintained? Actually the issue is no longer relevant especially in a country where nobody takes any notice of Articles 14 and 25 of the Constitution and The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act of 1992. And so children who have been incarcerated to wipe out a debt by their fathers continue to be abused in the brick kiln and carpet weaving industries. However, his legacy lives on in the world’s second-largest democracy. The United States Labour Department has an annual award in his honour — the Iqbal Masih Award. But in his own country he is hardly known! So after you’ve taken two aspirins, watched your cricket and had your brunch and decide you want to go back to this piece, shed a tear for the thousands of Iqbal Masihs who have been imprisoned for no fault of their own. The police, the government and the judicial machinery are not helping. But you can. Unless, of course, you believe in slavery!

Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2015.