Zerbanoo Gifford, who came to the UK from India at the age of three, was the first Asian woman to stand for UK parliament and went on to establish the philanthropic ASHA Foundation. This edited extract from her biography, An Uncensored Life, describes one of the people who inspired her to work for positive social change

Zerbanoo Gifford started to write because she felt words have the power to influence people’s views. She hoped her writing would motivate people to go beyond self-limiting boundaries that come with the daily grind of living, and be inspired by the lives of others.

Gifford wishes that people would take a page out of the life of Thomas Clarkson, the driving force behind the campaign to end the horrors of slavery. He started the world’s first human rights organisation, Anti-Slavery International. Zerbanoo quotes Coleridge in saying Clarkson was “a moral steam engine”.

She set the record right in her book, Thomas Clarkson and the Campaign Against the Slave Trade, which she dedicated to the Quaker community for being at the forefront of the abolition movement. Clarkson is now considered a father of modern campaigning. His many pioneering techniques made the anti-slave movement one of the most pressing political issues of the eighteenth century.

He corresponded regularly with more than 400 abolitionists, drawing them into a nationwide network. He used a diagram of a slave ship as a picture that showed slaves chained like sardines in a tin. This picture was displayed in the homes of most abolitionists to make people aware of the inhuman atrocities inflicted on slaves. Women were also encouraged to wear anti-slavery hat pins, brooches and necklaces.

Clarkson encouraged artists such as Turner, poets like Wordsworth and industrialists such as Josiah Wedgwood to throw their weight behind the abolition movement. He masterminded the boycott of sugar by nearly half a million people. Most importantly, he interviewed thousands of sailors employed on the transatlantic slave trade. Many were dumped in the Americas, as they were not needed on the return journey to England. European slavers offloaded the sailors or sold them as slaves, abandoning them to lives of degradation and desperation. The testimonies of these sailors helped convince the British people to call for the end of the slave trade as much as the cruelty inflicted on the slaves who were transported to the West Indies and the Americas.

Clarkson encouraged artists, poets and industrialists to throw their weight behind the abolition movement

It took dogged persistence by Gifford as the director of Anti-Slavery International to help raise media awareness of current forms of slavery. She drew attention to millions of child slaves working in mines, factories, farms and brothels around the world. Lambasting sex tourism, she used the public platform to condemn the scale of exploitation that deprives helpless children of education, basic health care and love.

She said: “It is sad that so many politicians talk about the next generation but they rarely do anything about it. Half of children who are in indentured labour (and that number runs to millions) will die from accidents, disease and hunger before they reach the age of 12. Many are given drugs, not as medicine to alleviate their pain but to stop them from running away. We need a slavery-free labelling system just like we have cruelty-free products for animals and birds in the market today.”

This is a condensed excerpt from An Uncensored Life, written by Farida Master and published by HarperCollins India

Image: Zerbanoo Gifford (centre) with students at the ASHA Centre


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