History and Future of Slavery

There were no slaves and slavery in ancient India. These English words have no direct, universally accepted equivalent in Sanskrit or other Indian languages.  Some people have attempted to equate the word ‘dasa’ as slaves.  However, the status and rights of ‘dasa’ in ancient India was no way comparable to the exploitative, barbaric treatment of slaves and inhuman status in which they lived.  The confusion of translating dasa as slave may be due to Shamasastry’s translation of dasa as slave.  However, Kangle corrects this by retaining the word ‘dasa’ or ‘karmakaara’ in his translations of Arthashastra. The Greek historian Arrian, who chronicled India about the time of Alexander the Great, wrote in his Indika, “The Indians do not even use aliens as slaves, much less a countryman of their own.” [Dasas of India are not slaves]

An undated newspaper advertisement offers a family of slaves for sale, highlighting their various skills. Slave families were not always sold together.
An undated newspaper advertisement offers a family of slaves for sale, highlighting their various skills. Slave families were not always sold together.

In ancient Rome, slaves performed many domestic services, and might be employed at highly skilled jobs and professions. Teachers, accountants, and physicians were often slaves.  Roman military expansion was a major source of slaves and slaves performed manual labor.  In Roman Empire, slaves were freed and this was referred to as manumission.  A freed slave was allowed to become Roman citizen. A freed slave enjoyed not only passive freedom from ownership, but active political freedom (libertas), including the right to vote, though he could not run for public office.  In Greek, Unskilled slaves, or those condemned to slavery as punishment, worked on farms, in mines, and at mills.  It was also possible that educated turning to be slaves.  Available documentation is primarily focused on Athens and Greek treatises on jurisprudence, arts, and plays relate slavery to artisans and as a source of revenue.

Jewish practices record the enslavement of men and women, mainly captured in war and alien people.  Women captured by Israelite armies could be adopted forcibly as wives, but first they had to have their heads shaved and undergo a period of mourning. (Deuteronomy 21:10-14) However, “If you are not pleased with her, then you must let her go where she pleases. You cannot in any case sell her; you must not take advantage of her, since you have already humiliated her.” non-Israelite slaves shall serve forever

There was a continuity of practice of slavery from pre-Christian times throughout next 1500 years among Christian populations.  Slavery was in a variety of forms and each of them was an expression of brutal exploitation of one human being by another. Muslim populations in Saudi region continued, approved and adopted practices and philosophy of slavery in their framework.   Europeans who colonized Americas enslaved native populations extensively.  They also moved large populations of Africans to the Americas as slaves.  All denominations of Christianity endorsed slavery actively and there was almost no debate on the treatment of the slaves for hundreds of years.  The slaves were killed, raped, plundered, and tortured.  They were made to work in inhuman conditions, and were killed and abused for flimsy reasons in large numbers. Their families of slaves were broken, and burnt.  Individuals and groups of people were arbitrarily accused of heresy and tortured through methods of inquisition. [Europeans Devastated Non-Christian populations]

In Australia, and New Zealand, the land was colonized by Europeans. Non-Christian populations were devastated and enslaved.  Before the arrival of European settlers, each Maori group of New Zealand was considered itself a separate entity equivalent to a nation. There were conflicts between the groups and enslavement is assumed by the Western historians.  After the invasion of European settlers, the Maori groups were conquered, converted, and subjugated to slavery.   In Australia, until 1904, lakhs of men and boys from the South Pacific islands, and an unknown number of women and girls, were kidnaped and brought to Australia to work as slaves on the sugar plantations that still dot the country’s northeast coast. They were shackled, flogged with kangaroo hide whips and raped at will. There were thousands of deaths among enslaved populations.  White historians ignored to record the facts of the enslavement and 150 years later, few Australians are aware of this brutal period of their history.

Judaism accommodates slavery.    Numerous laws governing the ownership and treatment of slaves may be found in the Tanaka, the Talmud, the 12th century Mishneh Torah by noted rabbi Maimonides, and the 16th century Shulchan Aruch by rabbi Yosef Karo . The slavery laws of Tanaka have similarities with the 18th century BCE slavery laws of Hammurabi. In the modern era, when the abolitionist movement sought to outlaw slavery, supporters of slavery used the laws to provide religious justification for the practice of slavery.

The Bible contains several references to slavery, which was a common practice from antiquity. The Bible stipulates the treatment of slaves both in Old Testament and in the New Testament. Male slaves were, theoretically were allowed to be free after seven years of service. However, in practice there were methods to prevent such a release.  Female slaves are not freed in any way.  Exodus (Exodus 21:7-11) explicitly says, “If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again. But he is not allowed to sell her to foreigners.” Women were enslaved and sexual gratification from them is implied. Only when the woman slave is married by the master or son of the master, the slavery is ended. But, she continues to be in the same environment where she served as a slave [Slavery in Bible].

In Islam, the slavery is largely slavery of women that includes forced marriages, slavery for manual labor and more importantly sexual slavery.  Women and children are considered as war spoils. After the war victory, men of the enemy camp are killed and young children and women are shared among the Islamic army.  Islam permits sexual intercourse with virgin women immediately after the capture. If the captured woman is not a virgin, then Muslims have to wait till their womb is cleansed before they can have sexual intercourse.  There is no restriction to force sexual intercourse against the wishes of the woman as the captured woman is merely a property like cattle.  The woman can be sold, purchased, and gifted or freed. It is not correct, according to Islam, to interpret these actions as ‘not recommended’.  The wife cannot object a Muslim man to have sexual intercourse with his slave.  Such an objection is also considered as improper and against the scholarly opinion. [Slavery in Islam]

Thus, the slavery existed in populations associated with Europe, Colonized America, Australia, and New Zealand.  The slavery was approved by populations associated with Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  In the modern times, the dominant discussion in the Jewish and Christian world is supportive of banning slavery. However, a minority stream is still advocating continuing the slavery.  The dominant Islam advocated slavery of non-Muslim women and elimination of adult men without any hesitation.  Feeble voices among minority Muslims who are not politically not empowered are heard against slavery.  In the white worlds of Europe, America, Australia, and New Zealand, African populations, and Asian populations are discriminated systematically based on their skin color. Modern democratic institutions – executive, judiciary, and legislature as well as media systematically sustain the practices of discrimination rooted in slavery, often in subtler ways.

Officially, the slavery was abolished in a gradual manner.  In 1800s, European states abolished slavery and in 1900s, Muslim countries followed the suit.  UN abolished slavery globally in 1948 through Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It appears that those who committed the sins of slavery have just started atoning for the crimes.  However, suddenly they have become researchers of slavery, reformers against slavery and preachers to the world, which never practiced slavery.

The discussion of modern slavery is a distorted debate initiated by perpetrators of slavery.  They are trying to transfer the blame of their sins on to the gullible populations who are either victims or ignorant of the slavery problem.  The age-old sacred institution of traditional marriage of India is slowly being included in the categories of ‘modern slavery’.  Low wage employments are being interpreted as modern slavery. In addition, India is suddenly appearing on the top of the modern slavery list.  A nascent NGO with the blessings of prominent American politicians such as Hillary Clinton.  The head of the Catholic Church – The Pope – organizes a meet of representatives of religions and Dharmic traditions and cultures endorsing the modern day slavery report.

Hindus are set to receive the sins of the world once again and emancipate the world of slavery.