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This article has been written by Anubhav Garg, a student of Delhi Metropolitan Education. In this article, he has explained the idea of slavery with the reference to the movie The Birth of a Nation covering the points like why this idea prevailed in the first place, behaviour towards the slave, the provisions of IPC abolishing slavery, etc.

The author has tried to explain the idea of slavery to the best of his knowledge and has tried to relate it to the movie “The Birth of a Nation” (hereinafter referred as the movie), which is based on the real instance in the United Kingdom. He has also cited provisions of IPC at various instances where they can/could be applied to establish the relevance of the topic with Law of Crimes. 

What is the idea of slavery?

The very idea of slavery was that humans were treated as commodities. In slavery, black people from the African countries like Nigeria, South Africa, Libya, etc were abducted and sold in European and American nations for money as slaves. Though these slaves can be made to do anything as per the will of their owners, from a normal cleaning work to prostitution, they were mainly made to work in the cotton farms, tea plantations, coal mines, jungles, etc of white people. Some slaves, who were fortunate enough also gets to assists the white mothers in taking care of their children and other household works. 

According to the author, the idea of slavery was mainly fuelled by two things: –

  1. The idea of the superiority of white people over black people (racism) and
  2. The demand for labour (slaves).

Superiority

The very idea of white superiority over blacks was the reason, that white people use to buy black slaves and the problem of slavery took the colour of the problem of racism also. The author also believes that the converse can also be true, that is, the racism against the blacks was also somewhere responsible for the casting of the act of slavery over blacks. This is the reason that even the government at that time supported this form of human trafficking.

The main element in play when a white guy is buying a slave (always black people) was racism, that is, to show that blacks are inferior to them and they can make the black people do anything of their will. Racism is in the crux of slavery. 

These slaves were voluntary kept illiterate, or if the movie is referred, then were presumed to be incapable of studying or learning and were deemed as born to slave for white people and therefore they were denied of any kind of education and were forced to stay illiterate. The motive behind this presumption was that if slaves get enlightened by the education, then they would start a rebel against the white people and will not slave for them. This presumption can be observed in a scene, where when Nat (a slave black child) tries to pick-up to read a book, the owner of the Nat stops him and tell him that, “These books are for white folks, and therefore is incapable for the likes of you to understand”. 

The slaves were not treated much different from animals. As shown in the movie, whenever their owners had to cut cost, they use to reduce the number of a meal of slaves. Slaves use to live in a barn with the cattle and no proper sanitation. In a very horrific scene in the movie, a white girl has been shown to put a rope in a black girl’s neck like the collar is put on the neck of a dog and play with her while running in this scenario. If slaves refuse to eat, their teethes were broken from chisel and hammer. 

On the top of that, there were slave hunters, who make sure that if a slave comes out of his master’s mansion or tries to steal something, they get punished or sometimes they were even shot to death. These observations, made from the movie clearly shows how prevalent the idea of white superiority was in that time and how this idea was projected in the form of slavery and the inhuman treatment towards slaves. 

The demand of labour (slave)

When Europeans arrived on the new land, they wanted to cultivate their sugar plantations their as well, which has witnessed a phenomenal growth in past decades. But instead of going with Indians as slaves because they thought they are not numerous and resilient; they choose to bring slaves from West Africa because they found an existing slave system there. To these white people who use to buy slaves, the benefit of having a slave were immense. Buying a slave as a one-time investment and you buy a thing (as they didn’t treat them like living creatures) which will do literally do anything for you. From working in your farms to beating/raping them pleasure you can do anything to them and if they resist you inflict pain on them or even shoot the slave right where he is standing.

Due to the influx of cheap slaves to produce vast quantities of sugar, a commodity in great demand in Europe and one that yielded humongous wealth the European economy flourishes. And due to this, the words for economic gains from the cheap slaves in Europe also spread in other European and American countries. 

Seeing this, The Spanish enthusiastically adopted similar systems in their Caribbean colonies, as did the British in Barbados and Jamaica. In North America, too, where tobacco became the most important crop, the supply of cheap African slaves became vital to economic growth. This increased the demand of the slaves in the world for having economic gains, consequently and unfortunately promoting the idea of slavery. 

Cruelty towards slave women

It’s been shown in movie that slave women were being raped by their owners or their guests for the money. In one of the scenes in the movie, a slave woman was serving dinner to her master’s guests and the guests inappropriately touch her on her thighs in front of her master. This shows the amount of dignity and integrity given to slave women and how vulnerable their conditions were, that they didn’t know with whom they might have to sleep tonight because of the will of her master. In another scene, it’s been shown that a slave woman was gang raped by 3 men just because she was found outside of her master premises without a pass. 

In another scene, it’s been shown how inhuman treatment slave women were given, when they were sold in an auction like a table as sex slaves.  

What if the slaves resist?

In one the instances, a slave refuses to eat. They were tied in a barn where cattle shit, with their mouths being covered from a metal cover. Then the owner breaks every single teethes of the slave from a chisel and hammer and put a funnel in his funnel. Then he forcefully fills his mouth with this weird looking gravy thing they use to give slave as food. Other instances were, they were made to take dog bites or live outside in cold for the whole day without any warm clothes.

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When Nat starts a rebel against this and gathered the force of black men to take over the control from the British people for his freedom, many of his slave friends died from the hands of whites because they didn’t have arms and ammunition with them. After this rebel, white people started hanging the full-fledged families of a slave to death just to capture Nat irrespective of women, old or child. This shows how less value the slave as human hold for whites at that time and to what extent the whites can go to punish if black resist to their will. 

What provisions of IPC abolish slavery?

1. Human trafficking

Section 370, which reads as follows:

“370. Trafficking of person.—(1) Whoever, for the purpose of exploitation, (a) recruits, (b) transports(c) harbours, (d) transfers, or (e) receives, a person or persons, by—

First.—using threats, or

Fourthly.—by practising fraud, or deception, or

Fifthly.—by abuse of power, or

Sixthly.— by inducement, including the giving or receiving of payments or benefits, in order to achieve the consent of any person having control over the person recruited, transported, harboured, transferred or received,

commits the offence of trafficking

This section of abolishes the purchasing of slaves, therefore, cutting the slavery from its very roots. In the movie, it was shown that under the slavery system of Africa, people were kidnapped/abducted and were sold to Portuguese traders as slaves. If this instance would have taken place in modern India, these traders would have been penalised under section 370.

2. Kidnapping for slavery

 Section 367 of the Indian Penal Code, which reads as follow: –

“Kidnapping or abducting in order to subject a person to grievous hurt, slavery, etc.—

Whoever kidnaps or abducts any person in order that such person may be subjected, or maybe so disposed of as to be put in danger of being subjected to grievous hurt, or slavery, or to the unnatural lust of any person, or knowing it to be likely that such person will be so subjected or disposed of, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

This section of Indian Penal Code basically abolishes the slavery, it provides that if anyone is kidnapped/abducts a person and that abduction leads to the slavery of the abducted, the culprit will be punished for 10 years and with a fine. The kidnapper/abductors mentioned in the above example would have been penalised under Section 367  only.  

3.Cruelty towards slaves

Section 358, reads as follow: –

“358. Assault or criminal force on grave provocation.—Whoever assaults or uses criminal force to any person on grave and sudden provocation given by that person, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one month, or with fine which may extend to two hundred rupees, or with both.

Explanation.—The last section is subject to the same Explanation as section 352.

Of Kidnapping, Abduction, Slavery and Forced Labour”

In one of the instances in the movie, a slave argues with his master over some verses in the Bible, and the master punishes him by whipping him (100 hits). If this case would have happened in modern India, this guy would have been booked under article 358 only.

Conclusion

From the above discussion, we can conclude that the main reason slavery originated and prevailed for such a long period of time and was so hard to abolish was 1. The idea of white people being superior to black people and 2. The demand for labour in the form of slaves. Slavers use to suffer from every kind of imaginable torture and pain and the sad part was, with legal sanction. The conditions of women were worst because men had to please their masters only by their labour, but women were also asked to offer their body. 

The abolishment of slavery in the UK via the Slavery Abolition Act, (1833). In British history, an act of Parliament that abolished slavery in most British colonies, freeing more than 800,000 enslaved Africans in the Caribbean and South Africa as well as a small number in Canada. It received Royal Assent on August 28, 1833, and took effect on August 1, 1834. The same was done in America by Abraham Lincoln in 1865 and in the opinion of the author, it is the best thing ever happened to the world after eradication of smallpox disease. No one can be sold like a dog to do hard labour and other obscene works and get separated from his family just because a bunch of people didn’t like the colour of their skin.  


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