“Gian. What made you start your anti-slavery movement?”
Usually I answer this question with the story of the shirt that I bought 7 years ago. Behind its loose buttons, I discovered more about slavery footprints: the fact that in many products that we buy, or the services that we get, there are many people who were “enslaved” for being forced to work in worrying conditions.
But actually, there is another reason why I started Emancipate Indonesia as an anti-slavery movement.
And the answer might be more personal than anybody can imagine.
24 years ago, there was a bright young woman who just got into a public university. It was one of the best college in the country, and she earned it. After all, she was an excellent student with countlessachievements in her school.
She started to study Sociology, which was her passion. She was only 20 years old and she got the whole world ahead of her. She had the ambition to make her parents proud, and be financially independent as she always was since many years ago.
Everything seemed okay, even though she had to work hard to pay her own tuition. Until one day, her Mother came to her flat. It was a visit that she was not expecting. Her two brothers were also there. With a wave of a hand, her Mother ordered the two brothers to forcefully drag the young woman away.
Her hands were shaking. She cried. And shouted. But her Mother did not even bother. Neither was her two brothers.
Her Mother gave some simple explanations for the incident:
“You are going to marry this man who is 24 years older than you. He is a successful businessman, and he will make a good husband to you.”
The moment that sentence ended, she knew her college days were over.
After a while, she finally got pregnant. Of course, it was not her plan at all, for it was a forced marriage that brought a baby to her belly.
But she had hopes. Never for once she doubted her bond with the baby. Months passed, the marriage was far from well. There were countless fights, abuse and distrust, but the young women kept going on.
For once, after being enslaved in a marriage she never wanted, she had a bigger reason to live. The baby kept her going on and on. Whatever happened, she always persisted.
Until it came the time for her to give birth to the baby. It was a boy. She cried happily, so did the boy. As partners who supported each for many months, they finally met. Their eyes spoke an unconditional love. In that moment, the young woman was a young Mother, and the little boy was a little son. The moment she gazed on to the eyes of her son, she had all the strength she needed to survive.
She decided to be divorced from the forced marriage, and brought her little son with her. She continued her long-delayed study in college. The university rejected her presence at first, but nevertheless, she persisted.
Experiencing the deprivation of freedom from the unwanted marriage has made being persistent a signature persona of hers. She got used to being persistent. She started to think, maybe she was born to be persistent. Little did she know, her little son would also be thinking the same was in his 20s.
After the divorce, came harder times. More marriage, more betrayals, more divorce. But this Mother and son kept on going and going. If there is one thing that made this Mother and son kept going on and on until today, is that they see themselves not merely as victims, but as survivors.
They were persistent enough to think that after all the things they have been through, they grew stronger with their pains, and they still can light a candle of hope in the darkness of the world.
It would be easy for the Mother to stay on the ground as a victim who were enslaved in a forced arriage, or for the son to stay vulnerable by simply saying he is only a slavery footprint.
But they chose to channel their persistence into strength. They rose from the ashes and fought against injustice in their own ways. They listened, they responded, and they moved forward with whatever made themselves who they are today.
24 years later, the Mother is now a professional researcher, anthropologist and education specialist who have dedicated her life trying to listen to people and contribute positive changes to nature and humanity.
24 years later, the little son is now a political economy enthusiast, tobacco control advocate and young abolitionist who strive to fight against modern slavery by starting Emancipate Indonesia.
So, back to the question again.
Why did I start this anti-slavery movement?
Because I realized that I am more than just a slavery footprint.
As youth, I am an agent of change, joining the march of freedom to end slavery in our lifetime.
And so are you.