Nobel laureate Satyarthi’s film exposes India child slavery
Nobel laureate Satyarthi’s film exposes India child slavery
“Kailash,” which premiered last week at the US-based Sundance Film Festival, charts Satyarthi’s rise from domestic anti-trafficking figurehead to Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Satyarthi, 64, whose charity Bachpan Bachao Andolan has been credited with freeing at least 80,000 child slaves in India over 30 years, said the film might shock audiences and spur them to take action such as refusing to buy goods made with slave labor.
“Many people have never thought that slavery still exists in its cruelest form,” Satyarthi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Sundance, the independent film industry’s premiere US gathering — now in its 33rd year.
“I always feel that consciousness-raising is the first step to societal change,” added Satyarthi, joint winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize with Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai.
In an early scene of the documentary, one of many filmed with handheld cameras, activists working under Satyarthi’s lead storm into a New Delhi apartment housing several child laborers. After one campaigner breaks down a padlocked door, his frantic colleague eventually unearths stunned-looking children from under piles of plastic bags where they had been hidden.
Filmmaker Derek Doneen spent two years shooting scenes with Satyarthi’s team, which the American director said had enabled him to avoid making a film dominated by data and talking heads.
“I didn’t want to make the sad child-slavery movie that you see and maybe it affects you but you don’t want to ... talk about it because it’s too heavy,” said the Kailash director.
Countless children across India are trafficked and enslaved every year — either forced to work or sold into sexual slavery.
About 60 percent of the more than 23,000 trafficking victims rescued in India were children in 2016, government data shows.
But activists say slavery figures are hugely underestimated in the socially-conservative society, where the fear of being blamed, shamed or stigmatized means victims and their families often keep quiet and choose not to report the abuses they face.
Worldwide, about 10 million children were living as modern slaves last year — either trapped in forced labor or forced marriages — according to the United Nations International Labor Organization and human rights group Walk Free Foundation.
Iraq’s top musicians play on despite unpaid wages
In a dusty Baghdad dance studio, conductor Mohammed Amin Ezzat tries to fire up the musicians of Iraq’s National Symphony Orchestra, whose enthusiasm has been dampened by eight months without pay.
An aging air conditioner fights to beat back the summer heat in the cramped space at the capital’s School of Music and Ballet as the 57-year-old maestro leads the group through a rehearsal of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain.”
The shaggy-haired Ezzat and the 40 musicians surrounding him are gearing up to perform at Baghdad’s National Theater on Saturday, but the group’s morale is at an all-time low.
The ensemble has lost more than half its members since the start of the year, when the government issued a directive barring state employees with two jobs from receiving two salaries.
The anti-corruption measure was suggested by the World Bank and should affect only about a third of the orchestra’s musicians, but because of delays in carrying out the reform wages have been withheld from the entire group.
“The orchestra is in great danger,” Ezzat said. “Some don’t have enough money to come, and others are disappointed by the impact of politics on the orchestra.”
Officially created in 1970 after several unsuccessful attempts, Iraq’s national orchestra has survived decades of upheaval.
It has survived wars, an invasion, a 12-year international embargo and a devastating three-year battle against Daesh militants, which came to an end last year.
But this may be the last straw for the outfit, a collateral victim of Iraq’s “war on corruption.”
“Not being paid for eight months has had a terrible psychological effect on the musicians, but we’ll continue to resist peacefully with our music,” said Ezzat, who became the orchestra’s first Iraqi conductor in 1989.
“We’re on the precipice but sure that we won’t jump.”
When all its salaries are tallied up — including the maestro’s $1,200 a month, peanuts for a major conductor — the orchestra costs the state about $85,000 (€73,000) a year.
The sum is a pittance compared to the exorbitant figures siphoned off by ministers and high officials who have either fled or been arrested.
The conductor, his daughter Noor, a timpanist, and his sons Hossam and Islam, who play the cello and viola respectively, have all been without a salary since January.
But according to Raed Allawi, the head of administrative affairs at Iraq’s Culture Ministry, there is no reason to panic — the wages will soon be paid.
“The Finance Ministry has asked for a regularization of contracts. Verification measures are underway and this explains the late payment of wages,” Allawi said.
“The orchestra is one of the country’s cultural showcases (and the ministry) respects its artists and their talent.”
For the symphony’s musicians, however, these are empty words they have heard already.
Saad Al-Dujaily, a professor of medicine and a flutist, thinks the measure is regressive. “I’ve been an obstetrician and a flute player since I was very young,” he said.
Because of the directive, the 57-year-old practitioner — who teaches at Baghdad’s Al-Nahrain University and plays in the national orchestra — is now entitled to only one salary.
“In Iraq, we’re proud to have more than one job, to have more than one love, to practice two professions with the same love and passion,” said Dujaily, who plans to continue with the orchestra to help preserve its quality.
Further along into the rehearsal, the studio’s electricity cuts, a common occurrence in a country plagued by power outages.
The orchestra cannot afford the diesel to fuel the building’s generator.
But the musicians play on in the windowless room, using their cell phones to illuminate the sheet music. “There have been crises in the past, but this is the worst,” said Doaa Majid Al-Azzawi, an oboe player.
“Especially since my father and I are musicians. We don’t know what will happen, but if the orchestra has to stop, it’s culture in Iraq that will be dealt a deadly blow,” the 25-year-old said.
When the studio’s lights eventually make a flickering return, so too does the players’ enthusiasm, and the music swells.
“As long as we live, music will live. It’s our culture,” said Noor, the conductor’s daughter.