Bhanuja Sharan Lal
From an early age, Bhanuja was aware of the terrible exploitation of adults and children forced into slavery in communities across Northern India where he grew up. He was inspired to devote his career to helping these individuals and their families find freedom and regain their dignity. After working with several other anti-slavery groups, Bhanuja became director of a newly-formed organization called Manav Sansadhan Evam Mahila Vikas Sansthan (MSEMVS) in 2003. MSEMVS roughly translates in English as the Society for Human Development and Women’s Empowerment. While Bhanuja did not found MSEMVS, it is under his leadership that the organization has truly flourished. Their approach to eradicating slavery in Northern India has become an internationally recognized and esteemed model for human rights work.
The MSEMVS team serves on the front line of the anti-slavery movement, progressively dismantling entrenched systems of slavery at brick kilns, farms, factories, and quarries in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. MSEMVS organizes and oversees the rescue of approximately 60 men, women and children every month, providing slavery survivors with follow-up reintegration support and livelihoods training. They also manage a series of village-based transitional schools that enable child slavery survivors to catch up on their education so that they can successfully enter public schools within three years.
MSEMVS recently launched the Sustained Liberation Program, which helps villagers establish Community Vigilance Committees, a process through which groups of slaves come to freedom by exercising collective power and by pressuring police to enforce anti-slavery laws. This strategy focuses on movement building and has united community-level committees together in a larger federation. The Sustained Liberation Program has transformed hundreds of village communities into no-go zones for traffickers.
Bhanuja’s leadership has been characterized by an unwavering commitment to empowering those affected by slavery and a tenacious approach to engaging authorities and other key stakeholders in the process. The genuine kindness he exudes helps individuals scarred by slavery to understand their own unique human worth. In 2014, Bhanuja’s leadership earned him well-deserved recognition as a global anti-slavery hero by the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons program.
In 2016, we began our partnership with Bhanuja and the MSEMVS team by supporting their effort to scale to four new districts within Uttar Pradesh. These districts are home to a total of 48 small villages that are highly vulnerable to bonded labor and trafficking, therefore earning them top priority for the expansion of the model.