Dr Richard Benjamin, Head of the International Slavery Museum, looks at the different ways we can learn from history to end social injustices, as new exhibition 'Broken Lives: slavery in modern India', opens at the Museum today....
"What better time than shortly after a general election to reacquaint myself with blogging and reiterate the Museum’s democratic values, its commitment to social justice and the need to challenge the rise of scaremongering and scapegoating. It is too easy to blame the “Other” for perceived national or personal ills and misfortunes, it has happened throughout history to catastrophic effects. Lest we forget that 2015 is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, so now is not the time to be enchanted by what can often be divisive, chest thumping rhetoric.
Since my last blog I attended the launch of an exhibition on modern slavery in Argentina at the Fundación Estudios Litoral in Rosario, which I co-curated as part of a collaboration between National Museums Liverpool and the Fundación to develop a new Museum for International Democracy. Rosario is famous as being the birthplace of two icons – Ernesto "Che" Guevara and Lionel Messi. However, Rosario, like many places in Argentina, has a dark history that lurks just under the surface of what is a beautiful country. In Rosario my hosts pointed out buildings which bore the scars of the brutal right-wing military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from approximately 1976-1983. The regime was responsible for the disappearance of thousands of people – often referred to as the “disappeared” - students, political activists, trade unionists and journalists in a period of state sponsored terror.
In Buenos Aires I was then taken to an incredibly disturbing museum known as ESMA Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada or the Navy School of Mechanics one of the most notorious centres of torture. It was extremely difficult to look at some of the exhibits which showed pictures of some of those that disappeared, especially as I was with people who had been personally affected by this brutal period of Argentine history – a period which saw the eradication of many human and civil rights – including the right to vote for a democratically elected government. Many of us might not like the results of our elections but let’s be thankful that at least we have the right to vote.
Finally, I’d like to announce that today we launch our own exhibition called Broken Lives: slavery in modern India which provides a glimpse into the experiences of India’s Dalit community, who often experience prejudice, live in extreme poverty and are vulnerable to becoming victims of bonded labour and human trafficking. This is an important exhibition and one that highlights the fact that nearly half of the world’s victims of modern slavery are in India, most of these are Dalits. I hope you have the time to visit and show your support for the campaign to end such injustices."