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SLAVERY in Modern India : Facts and History

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Slavery in India had begun in ancient times, and it explored with invasions of India in 8th century, and especially after the 12th century. The term dāsa and dāsyu in Vedic and in many other ancient Indian religious literatures has been translated as slave. But many Indian scholars have translated it as servant, religious devotee. Kautilya's Arthasastra dedicated a chapter to dasa and granted them legal rights and declared abusing, hurting and raping a dasa as a social and moral crime. Passages of Arthasastra, Smritis and the Epic Mahabharata suggest that the social institution of slavery existed in India by 1st AD, likely by the lifetime of the Buddha.

Historical consensus indicates towards the escalation of slavery in India with the military campaign of Muslim armies in India. There was extensive slavery in India's Islamic period from 8th century AD through the 18th century in a total period of almost 1000 years. Slaves were also bought from India and exported to Islamic societies outside the subcontinent. Scott Levi states that, "the institution of slavery continued in India in various manifestations, well after the decentralization of the Mughal Empire in the early 18th century".

The Mughal rulers continued the slave trade. When Shah Shuja was appointed as governor of Kabul he carried on a ruthless war in the Indian Territory beyond Indus in Rajasthan and Punjab. Most of the women burnt themselves to death to save their honour. Those captured were distributed among Muslim Mansabdars. Under Shahjahan peasants were allowed to sell their women and children to meet their revenue requirements. The peasants were carried off to various markets and fairs to be sold with their poor sad wives carrying their small children crying and lamenting. According to Qaznivi, Shah Jahan had decreed they should be sold to Muslim lords." Levi is of the opinion the supply of Indian slaves for export dwindled as soon as the Mughal Empire weakened and decentralized and its military expansion came to an end. The degeneration of the Mughal Empire coincided with the increasing general exclusion of slaves from the tax-revenue systems of the successor states and the growing commercial and cultural separation of India and its neighbours to the north and west under the British Raj.

Indian slaves were an important component of the highly active slave markets of medieval and early modern Central Asia. High demand for skilled slaves, and India's larger and more advanced textile industry and agricultural production, architecture, demonstrated to its neighbours that skilled labour was abundant in the subcontinent leading to enslavement and export of large number of skilled labour, following successful invasions. After sacking Delhi, Timur enslaved several thousand skilled artisans, presenting many of these slaves to his subordinate elite, although reserving the masons for use in the construction of the Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Samarkand. Young female slaves fetched higher market price than skilled construction slaves, sometimes by 150%. Because of their identification in Muslim societies as kafirs, "non-believers", Hindus were especially in demand in the early modern Central Asian slave markets, with Indian slaves specially mentioned in waqafnamas, and archives and even being owned by Turkic pastoral groups.

During the period of Maratha Empire, some slaves were able to enjoy what ever they used to earn and entitled to inherit the property of his father. In most cases the slaves were forced to work all their lives and their children were also slaves. The slaves were given food, shelter and clothes and they did not have means to escape their owners. In short, the slavery under the Marathas was different than the slavery in Europe and America. Some slaves were treated well and they were set free on several occasions, festivals and due to their old age. They were released on the suitable substitute for their owner and allowed to marry with the person of their choice. The marriage of slave girl means it was as good as her manumission.

In reality, the movement of Indians to the Bukharan slave markets did not cease and Indian slaves continued to be sold in the markets of Bukhara well into the nineteenth century. Slavery existed in Portuguese India after the 16th century. "Most of the Portuguese", says Albert. D. Mandelslo, a German itinerant writer, "have many slaves of both sexes, whom they employ not only on and about their persons, but also upon the business they are capable of, for what they get comes with the master. The Dutch, too, largely dealt in slaves. They were mainly Abyssian, known in India as Habshis or Sheedes. The curious mixed race in Kanara on the West coast has traces of these slaves.

The Dutch Indian Ocean slave trade was primarily mediated by the Dutch East India Company, drawing captive labour from three commercially closely linked regions: the western, or Southeast Africa, Madagascar, and the Mascarene Islands(Mauritius and Reunion); the middle, or Indian subcontinent (Malabar, Coromandel, and the Bengal/Arakan coast); and the eastern, or Malaysia, Indonesia, New Guinea (Irian Jaya), and the southern Philippines. On the Indian subcontinent, Arakan/Bengal, Malabar, and Coromandel remained the most important source of forced labour until the 1660s. Between 1626 and 1662, the Dutch exported on average 150–400 slaves annually from the Arakan-Bengal coast. During the first thirty years of Batavia's existence, Indian and Arakanese slaves provided the main labour force of the company's Asian headquarters. The volume of the total Dutch Indian Ocean slave trade has been estimated to be about 15–30% of the Atlantic slave trade, slightly smaller than the trans-Saharan slave trade, and one-and-a-half to three times the size of the Swahili and Red Sea coast and the Dutch West India Company slave trades.

Child slavery in India today is very common in Hotels, restaurants and dhabhas. The existence of child slavery in South Asia and the world has been alleged by NGOs and the media. With the Bonded Labour Prohibition Act 1976 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights concerning slavery and servitude, a spotlight has been placed on these problems in India.

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