by New Worker correspondent
AROUND 60 people – friends, family, campaigners for peace and human rights – and others gathered in Blackheath last Sunday to celebrate the 79th birthday of Mukhtar Rana and to raise funds for the Peace and Human Rights Trust, which is fighting to free bonded labourers in Pakistan.
Mukhtar has spent his life campaigning for trade union and civil rights in Pakistan; he has been jailed after clashes with government on several occasions, once for five years. Amnesty International adopted him as a prisoner of conscience and he is now living in London but still campaigning against bonded labour.
Last Sunday he was joined by fellow Pakistani exiles and campaigners Khyum Bhat and Amanullah Khan, founder member of the People’s Party of Pakistan and a campaigner against imperialism.
Amanullah’s brother Ehsanullah Khan was to have attended; he too is a political exile now living in Sweden, but the British authorities failed to give him a visa in time for the event.
The event began with a buffet lunch – a feast of great curries and assorted salads and fruit.
Then came a superb rendition of South African revolutionary songs and the Internationale by Lizzie, a singer from the left-wing choir Raised Voices.
That was followed by a showing of a documentary film about the plight of the bonded labourers in Pakistan. The labourers and their supporters fight an uphill legal battle with landlords and factory owners. But even when the labourers and their families are freed, there is another battle to find them somewhere to live and to provide food, shelter and, most difficult of all in the Sindh desert, supplies of clean water. That’s what the fund raising was about.
Speakers, including Mukhtar himself, Khyum Bhat and others spoke of their legal battles in Pakistan and of bonded labour and slavery throughout the world – even in the western imperialist countries.
After the event Amanullah Khan told the New Worker about the plight of his brother and their whole family. Bonded labour is outlawed in the Pakistani constitution but both brothers were charged in 1995 with “economic sabotage” for campaigning against it, which is a form of high treason and carries the death penalty.
Ehsanullah founded the Bonded Labour Liberation Front. But the power of the landlords and factory owners is strong and is supported by the ISI, Pakistan’s state security force. Two of the Khan family sisters have been murdered and the whole family had to move to Baluchistan.
The two brothers in Europe continue to campaign but cannot return to Pakistan without risking summary assassination by the ISI.
The event was a great success and raised several hundred pounds to help to provide clean water for the liberated bonded labourers.