The Literary City

Laura Murphy On Violence, A Murder And How The Slaves Of Azad Nagar Won Their Freedom

June 08, 2022 Explocity Podcasts Season 1 Episode 24
The Literary City
Laura Murphy On Violence, A Murder And How The Slaves Of Azad Nagar Won Their Freedom
Show Notes Chapter Markers

Forty years ago, in 1982, two young men broke into the New Delhi home of an Indian Member of Parliament—and they held him and four others — hostage for several hours. The pistol packing hostage taker, Ram Narayan wanted to bring attention to the misfortunes of exploited coal miners in a nearby state.

Ram Narayan carried pamphlets of a manifesto he titled “Violence Is A Historical Necessity” and in it he underlined the Marxist-Leninist opinion that "No serious student of history will deny that certain historical situations render violence ineluctable."

It is commonly known that the poorest labourers in rural India are exploited. So exploited that in many cases they are, quite practically, slaves.

Sometimes a more sanitized expression is used for slavery—indentured labour. But that only suggests that the labourers work all their lives for free, usually for someone to whom they are indebted, typically because they have taken a loan that can never be reasonably repaid.

So, they end up working for subsistence. They cannot leave their work; any attempt to break free, leaving them and their families in mortal danger. Being so low down the social pecking order, and often without education, they are without recourse to justice—whether social or legal.

Modern slavery is abhorrent and alien, for many of us. For some, it is an everyday reality.

A story about some enslaved quarry workers—in the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in India—came to light. By all reports, it was a heartwarming story of how these slaves won their freedom following a peaceful rebellion and set themselves up in their own town and named it Azad Nagar, or Freedom Ville.

But while researching this story for herself, my guest, Laura Murphy—a professor of human rights and contemporary slavery—uncovered a secret. The revolution was not as peaceful as various reports, books and documentaries had described, in rather romantic narratives.

It appeared that the slaves of Azad Nagar had won freedom through violence and murder.

The reason this book is important to read is because it confronts us with the proposition that Ram Narayan made several years before—in the matter of revolution, is violence a historical necessity?

Joining us from her home in New Orleans in the United States is Dr Laura Murphy, the author of Azad Nagar-The Story of a 21st-Century Slave Revolt.

About Laura Murphy
Laura T. Murphy is Professor of Human Rights and Contemporary Slavery at the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK. She is the author of The New Slave Narrative: The Battle Over Representations of Contemporary Slavery, Survivors of Slavery: Modern-Day Slave Narratives, and Metaphor and the Slave Trade in Western African Literature. Her work has been funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the British Academy, and the National Humanities Center.

Buy Azad Nagar-The Story of a 21st-Century Slave Revolt:

Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in the segment "What's That Word?", where they discuss the origins the word–SCAPEGOAT.

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