Freedomville The Story of a 21st-Century Slave Revolt
A celebrated revolution brought freedom to a group of enslaved people in northern India. Or did it?
Millions of people around the world today are enslaved; nearly eight million of them live in India, more than anywhere else. This book is the story of a small group of enslaved villagers in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, who founded their own town of Azad Nagar—Freedomville—after staging a rebellion against their slaveholders. International organizations championed this as a nonviolent “silent revolution” that inspired other villagers to fight for their own freedom. But Laura T. Murphy, a leading scholar of contemporary global slavery, who spent years researching and teaching about Freedomville, found that whispers and deflections suggested that there was something troubling about Azad Nagar’s success.
Murphy embarks on a Rashomon-like retelling—a complex, constantly changing narrative of a murder that captures better than any sanitized account just why it is that slavery continues to exist in the twenty-first century. Freedomville’s enormous struggle to gain and maintain liberty shows why it is unrealistic to expect radical change without violent protest—and how a global construction boom is deepening and broadening the alienation of impoverished people around the world.
“A powerful, damning account of economic growth, beautifully told through the tragic story of the fight for freedom from slavery of tribals in India. A must-read for anyone wanting to understand modern slavery, the fragility of ideas of freedom, the place of violence in bringing about progressive change, and modern India.” —Alpa Shah, professor of anthropology, London School of Economics, and author of Nightmarch: Among India’s Revolutionary Guerrillas
“In Freedomville, Laura Murphy returns to an Indian village known to many as an anti-slavery success story, where she uncovers complex interconnections, unresolved truths, and a community and its former enslavers wrestling with mechanization, globalization, and environmental racism. Drawing on her deep understanding of historical slave resistance and modern human trafficking policy, Murphy echoes Dr. Martin Luther King’s warning that Emancipation cannot become an uncashed promissory note, but must be an ongoing guarantee of liberty and opportunity.” —Ambassador (ret.) Luis C.deBaca, Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, Yale University
“A brave and brilliant report on the tyranny of the caste system and continuing feudal practices in India's villages. Freedomville rips apart the cliche of India being the largest democracy in the world and shows us how millions of Indians are deprived of their basic constitutional freedoms and rights.” —Basharat Peer, author of A Question of Order: India, Turkey, and the Return of Strongmen, and contributing writer for The New York Times
“Laura Murphy brings a formidable array of experiences and skills to this compelling project. Trained in literary studies and the author of previous works on slave narratives of the past and human rights abuses in the present, Freedomville finds her making effective use of research techniques associated with oral history, ethnography, and investigative journalism, while demonstrating a novelist's feel for scene setting, character development, and pacing.” —Jeffrey Wassserstrom, Chancellor’s Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine, author of Vigil: Hong Kong on the Brink
Race/Related: a conversation with Laura T. Murphy about Freedomville and contemporary slavery — The New York Times
About the author
Laura T. Murphy is Professor of Human Rights and Contemporary Slavery at the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK. She is the author of The New Slave Narrative: The Battle Over Representations of Contemporary Slavery, Survivors of Slavery: Modern-Day Slave Narratives, and Metaphor and the Slave Trade in Western African Literature. Her work has been funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the British Academy, and the National Humanities Center. @LauraTMurphy