‘Razia’-A Novel That Voices Bonded Slavery
Slavery still exists. Bonded slavery is the most prevalent form of modern slavery, yet the least known. Debt bondage of bonded labour occurs when a person is forced to work to pay off a debt. It exists mainly in Asian and agricultural societies, where the victims are mislead into working for little or no pay, with no control over their debt. The mainstream media has hardly provided any coverage for this massive issue. However, fiction is one of the many avenues that can, and do help spread awareness for such topics. I spoke to Abda Khan, author of the novel ‘stained’, although she is a solicitor by profession; she recently wrote her new novel ‘Razia’ which explores bonded slavery, cultural pressures, gender inequality, ‘honour’ based violence, courage, hope and love in its many forms.
What inspired you to write your new book ‘Razia’
I write about issues I care about, and one of the main themes of Razia is slavery. I became interested in this subject a few years ago when I stumbled across an online article about modern day slavery. I then began researching this, and started looking into bonded slavery in Pakistan and India. The more I read about the subject, and the more I talked to others about it, the more I felt for the plight of the many millions of slaves around the world. I realised there is very little fiction depicting slavery, especially bonded slavery, and decided to embark upon writing the novel.
Tell me a bit about the characters?
There are three main characters. Farah is a British Pakistani lawyer working in London. She is now thirty years old, has a failed relationship behind her, and is under pressure to marry. She becomes embroiled in the life of Razia, a domestic slave in London. Razia’s troubles lead Farah all the way to Pakistan, to the shady world of bonded slavery in the brick kilns of Lahore. It is in Pakistan that Farah meets the third main character; Ali. He is a human rights lawyer, who agrees to help Farah to seek justice for Razia, and in so working together, Ali and Farah are drawn close to one another.
Why is bonded slavery such an underrepresented topic in the mainstream media?
There are many reasons. All types of slavery are quite hidden by their very nature. But one of the problems with bonded slavery in places like India and Pakistan is the fact that the goods, for example the bricks, that are produced by the slaves are usually for domestic use and consumption. Therefore, the bosses do not need to adhere to any international standards of working conditions, child labour etc. and in this way bonded slavery is largely overlooked by the international community. Although technically laws have been passed in these counties outlawing slavery, in reality, this has no effect, as the feudal landlords and bosses are far too powerful. Even when the goods are exported (for example rice), the desire for cheap products means that the conditions of the workers are ignored.
Why does there need to be more awareness about bonded slavery in the UK?
Most people in the UK haven’t even heard of the term bonded slavery, let alone know what it is. There are millions of slaves around the world living and working in the most awful conditions, not only in South Asian countries, but also in the western world, including right here in the UK where we know people are trafficked in from other countries and kept as modern day slaves in homes and businesses, or as sex slaves. More needs to be done to raise awareness of the difficulties that these people face.
Why is it this problem mostly exists in south Asian communities?
That isn’t actually the case. Modern day slavery exists in most communities around the world. However, bonded slavery, or debt bondage as it is sometimes referred to, is most prevalent in South Asian countries (e,g, in brick kilns and rice harvesting) and Sub-Saharan Africa (for example in the fisheries and as domestic labour).
How will fiction storytelling help?
Fiction is just one vehicle that can be used to raise the profile of an issue. Of course, slavery is already explored through journalism, academia and research, however, there can be times when fiction is more effective in delivering a particular message and stirring debate. The use of the imagination can be a powerful tool to provoke thought and even action.
What needs to happen in order for mindsets to be changed about honour-based violence?
Education. We must educate boys from an early age about the need to respect women. This is crucial, We must educate men about the need to eradicate unfair practices. It is not easy but we must try.
And finally, we must empower women; give them the appropriate knowledge to be have independence of thought, give them the help they need to challenge attitudes, and encourage them to seek help should they require it.
Describe your novel ‘Razia’ in three words
Gripping, Emotional, Inspirational