Global Anti-Slavery Movement’s Top Honor for Pakistani
Washington , DC : Shirimati Veero of Hyderabad received one of the global anti-slavery movement's top honors recently for her work to free bondedlabor slaves in Sindh.
Free The Slaves honored Veero at its 2009 Freedom Awards ceremony in Los Angeles, which honored the courage of women like her who were once enslaved and now fight to free others. The Freedom Awards was a star-studded event, drawing stars like Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Emmitt Smith, Isabel Allende and Camilla Belle.
Veero later traveled to Washington , DC where she briefed members of the US Congress and the State Department about the battle to end slavery in Pakistan .
Experts estimate that more than a million Pakistanis work as slaves at farms, factories and brickyards. Many are being forced to work-off illegal debts. Slaveholders use brutal tactics to keep them frightened. Veero remembers the terror of living on a farm where women were guarded around the clock and men were kept in leg irons.
"The slaveholder hired men armed with guns and axes, and they guarded us the entire day," Veero recalled. "They would fire their guns into the air at night to terrorize us so we wouldn't try to escape."
Veero was placed in to bondage when a local farmer cheated her family by claiming a debt had never been repaid. Then, the farmer demanded more than money.
"The slaveholder kept an eye on my daughters," Veero says.
With the safety of her children at stake, Veero took a terrifying risk.
Alone and on foot, she quietly slipped away from the farm and walked to the nearest town. She staged a three-day sit-in at a police station to demand that authorities take action. Her daring escape worked and police freed her entire family.
Debt bondage slavery is illegal in Pakistan, but illiterate villagers don't know how to stand up for their rights.
Now, Veero shows them how. First, she helps slaves overcome fear. Then, just as she had done to free her own family, Veero walks slaves to police stations to begin the legal process.
Veero has earned the trust of local slaves, and she's respected by police and community organizations.
"She's brave, she's intelligent and she's kind," says Ghulam Hyder of the Green Rural Development Organization, a group that has been fighting slavery in rural Pakistan. "I think she's a hero."
The annual Freedom Awards honor grassroots heroes of the antislavery movement worldwide. They are awarded by Free the Slaves, the US sister organization of the British group Anti-Slavery International, the world's oldest human rights organization.
Veero was selected by an independent committee that judged nominations from 22 countries.
Veero received a "Frederick Douglass Freedom Award," named after an escaped slave in America who helped persuade U.S. President Abraham Lincoln to free slaves in the 1860s by signing the Emancipation Proclamation. Douglass is often described as the founder of the American civil rights movement. The Freedom Awards are funded by the John Templeton Foundation.
Slavery isn't legal anywhere, but it exists everywhere on the globe, including the US and Europe . There are 27 million slaves worldwide, and slavery is one of the largest criminal enterprises in the world. A person is enslaved if they are forced to work under threat of violence, are paid nothing beyond sustenance, and are unable to walk away. Slaves toil throughout the economy: in mines, factories, farms, restaurants and brothels. Slave-made goods are everywhere, and include cotton, coffee, chocolate, steel, rugs and cell phones Veero lives a simple life and still works on farms to earn a living. But now, she is a free woman and gets paid for her work. She has founded the Saath Saharoo Society to continue her work to free slaves.
"All people are equal, and I want to free others so they do not suffer what I have suffered," Veero says. "I believe the time will come when all slaves will be free, and I am fighting for them."