A human rights activist emphasized her hope that Americans will fight the international crisis of trafficking by raising awareness and supporting international schools to help educate at-risk youth.
Dr. Ana Steele, a former Harvard faculty and current president of the Dalit Freedom Network, USA, said she believes that if Americans were aware of the subjugation of some 250 million people in India, they would be moved to help them.
“I told the governing board, ‘I will do this because I am an American and I believe in my country,’” Steele told EWTN News in a recent interview. “I believe that if America knew about the Dalits, some would care and some would take action.”
Dalits, or history’s “longest standing oppressed people group,” make up close to one quarter of the India’s 1.2 billion member population, Steele said. However, due to the practice of untouchability, they are seen as inherently impure and worthless.
“One of the greatest consequences of being a Dalit is human enslavement because of poverty and because of their degraded status in society,” she explained.
Twenty million people in India, 15 million of whom are children, are forced into harsh working conditions where they receive little pay, often times to work off a debt that is not even in their name.
While progress has been made to aid these individuals, much work remains to be done.
In her five years as president, Steele has witnessed “a lot of first ever strides” for Dalits. In 2010, her organization successfully convinced President Barack Obama to recognize the author of India’s constitution, Dr. B.R. Ambedka, as a Dalit in an address to both houses of Indian Parliament.
However, Steele noted, the president of the United States is not the only person who can raise awareness about the oppressed of India. Average Americans can begin to help simply by watching a movie to raise their own awareness.
For the past several years, Friends Church of Yorba Linda, Calif., has been partnering with Dalit Freedom Network in one of their goals of preventing trafficking by educating at-risk children.
“What happened to them is what happens to almost everyone who visits India,” Steele explained. “God breaks your heart for India and you come away and say, ‘What can I do?’”
After visiting India in 2007, the church’s pastor, Matthew Cork, made a commitment to help build 200 English schools for children who otherwise might fall into the hands of traffickers.
Sensing there was still more to be done, the church’s Pastor of Creative Ministries, Brent Martz, set out to produce a feature-length film which tells the story of a young American fighting to recover a Dalit girl who was mistakenly sold to traffickers by her father.
The film, Not Today, will premiere in select theaters nationwide on April 12. All profits of the film will go towards helping to build more schools in India.
Dr. Steele said that the imagery of the film is especially important for Americans to see in order to become more aware of – and hopefully more involved with – the fight to end modern day slavery.
“There are so many visuals,” she explained, “you don’t have to get on a plane and go to India to see – you can go to the movies and you will get to see the crisis (of human trafficking).”
For more information about the international movement to free the Dalits, visit dalitnetwork.org.
Corrected on March 21, 2013 at 10:01 a.m., MST: Article incorrectly stated that Dr. Steele was in her sixth year with DFN and that President Obama's address occurred in 2008.