More than 100 Indian workers who broke a US-Indian human trafficking chain earlier this month found a famous ally in legendary US freedom fighter Hollis Watkins on Wednesday.
The workers shared stories, songs, and messages of unity with Watkins on Wednesday, the second day of their satyagraha from New Orleans to Washington DC to protest the Indian government's failure to protect Indian workers after they broke away from Signal and brought a major anti-human trafficking lawsuit against the company and its US and Indian recruiters.
Watkins is widely known and respected in the US civil rights circles for his work with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in the 1950s and 1960s.
“It is so important for us to come together and share our different struggles directly with one another,” he told the workers, who were bonded labourers at a marine construction company – Signal International – until earlier this month. “If we do that, we realise that we're two legs on the same body, facing the same puddle of earth.”
“The non-violent philosophy we used in our work was picked up from studying Mahatma Gandhi,” Watkins said, before teaching the workers a song he and other US freedom fighters used to sing during their struggle: “Ain't Scared of Nobody Because I Want My Freedom.”
In return, the workers taught Watkins a song in Malayalam. They also discussed how immigrants and African-Americans are taught to hate and fear each other in order to stop them from understanding their common fight against racism and exploitation and uniting in a common struggle.
Former Signal worker Sabulal Vijayan said of his fellow satyagrahis: “I am very proud of these workers for putting aside their jobs and coming out to tell the world the truth - the same experience black people in the US went through as slaves, is going on in a modern form with the guest worker programme.”
The workers held a press conference on the steps of the Mississippi state capitol on the morning of March 19 before continuing their satyagraha on foot. On March 26, they will arrive in Washington DC and demand a meeting with Indian Ambassador Ronen Sen, who reportedly refused to respond to the workers' request for a meeting for seven days.
Meanwhile, in New Delhi, families of the affected workers called on Union MoS for External Affairs E Ahamed on Thursday. “I received a petition from them and will discuss the matter. We will see what best we can do. If any Indian in the world is in difficulty, we will do our best to help them out within the legal framework,” the Minister told Hindustan Times.