Today, festivities across India will celebrate Independence Day, the national holiday commemorating India’s liberation from British colonial rule. After decades of resistance to foreign occupation, Indian freedom activists reclaimed their homeland in 1947. On August 15th of that year, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the first PM in the newly autonomous state, unfurled a tri-colored flag over the Lahore Gate in Delhi—a monumental declaration of the Indian peoples’ freedom from colonial oppression. This spirit of liberation lives on each year on the 15th of August—in merry processions bedecked with the patriotic saffron, white, and green, impassioned speeches offset by refrains of Jana Gana Mana (the national anthem), reenactments of historic moments from the Independence movements, and proud emblems of the state and culture emblazoned on everything from postage stamps to Google doodles—in India and diaspora communities around the world. The revelry of Independence Day honors the strength and resilience of activists in the fight for freedom and showcases the growth and dynamism of the nation since obtaining autonomy in 1947.
But amidst the merriment of Independence Day, it’s important to keep in mind that not all of Indians enjoy this freedom. Poverty, systemic racism, lack of opportunities for economic advancement, and patterns of gender-based violence threaten marginalized communities with the risk of enslavement. According to the Global Slavery Index, traffickers maintain control over an estimated 18 million people in India—the highest population of modern-day slaves in any country in the world. The fruits of India’s hard-won independence do not extend to the millions of local people caught in human trafficking.
Many local NGOs, activists, rescuers, politicians, community patrol officers, and safe houses in India fight to guarantee freedom to all the people of India. At iSanctuary, we offer an important resource to the anti-human trafficking movement—an aftercare space for survivors of trafficking to build a safe community, obtain vocational training and earn a salary, gain access to healthcare and therapy, learn life skills such as decision-making, goal-setting, and financial planning, and pursue an education through our new Academy. With the help of allied NGOs, we have identified vital tools to keep rescued girls away from traffickers, to reduce the threat of revictimization and poverty, and to help survivors advance themselves. At our sanctuary in Mumbai, we have helped over 300 girls gain access to these resources and fortify their independence.
Each morning, as our students file into their classroom, turn in their homework, gather the courage to ask a question, and return again to the challenge of learning, we bear witness to a weighty movement. This is their fight for freedom and independence. As Indian Independence fighter and women’s rights activist Vijaya Lakshmi Pandi asserted, “Education is not merely a means for earning a living or an instrument for the acquisition of wealth. It is an initiation into life of spirit, a training of the human soul in the pursuit of truth and the practice of virtue.” Through the Academy at iSanctuary, survivors have the opportunity to pursue an education, reach for higher paid and fulfilling jobs, develop well-rounded perspectives, and grow into mature, resilient, and well-informed women. We believe education at our Academy will provide a strong defense against human trafficking. So this Independence Day, we invite you to join us in celebrating our survivors and their willful work to rise up through education.
Written By, Kate Poor