Iqbal MasihAneladgames [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]
"True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost" ("Arthur Ashe."). Arthur Ashe asserted that most heroes in the real, everyday world are not like those that we see in movies--they don't have super strength, flying capabilities, or unworldly healing speeds. Real heroes are characterized as those who do not wish to defeat others, but rather to help them. These heroes come in various forms--male and female, old and young, tall and short. Despite these varying traits, however, all of these heroes have something in common-- they strive to bring about a change. No matter who it is, every hero must possess certain attributes in order to work towards this change. The hero must be inquisitive enough to see and understand the problems of others. The hero must be compassionate enough to want to make difference in a problem. And lastly, the hero must be determined enough to execute necessary steps towards his/her cause. Simply, a hero is someone that sees the misfortunes of others, wants to help them by making a difference, and acts to carry out this change.
There are many people who fit into this categorization of true heroes--who display the characteristics which enable them to help others no matter what. One such individual was Iqbal Masih, a 12-year-old boy who escaped child bondage and spent the rest of his life as a child rights activist. Iqbal was born in Muridke, Pakistan in 1983 and was part of a family of six people. In need of money for his half-brother's wedding, Iqbal's family sold him to a carpet manufacturer as a child slave when he was only four years old ("16th APRIL - INTERNATIONAL DAY AGAINST CHILD SLAVERY Iqbal Masih."). During his time as a slave, Iqbal faced terrible working conditions. He was usually woken early in the morning and did not return home until late in the night. The children at the factory were allowed no break from their work-- they had to constantly sit at the loom and twist their fingers through it for hours, risking many hand injuries. When faced with any bleeding wounds, the carpet master would seal them with a hot, scalding oil that burned the children's skin and made them scream. Many of the children were chained to their looms through the night, as to prevent escape. Additionally, the dust-ridden air of the factory infiltrated the children's respiratory systems and often got them sick (Croft). Iqbal escaped from his torturous owner in 1992 with a few friends and joined the Bonded Labor Liberation Front (BLLF), an organization for human rights that was founded by a child labor activist named Ehsan Khan. He then learned that many laws had been placed in the country against child bondage, but most inhabitants of small villages such as his were not aware of them. Also, child bondage brought the Pakistani government large profits, so these laws were rarely enforced. Through the organization, Iqbal soon became the face of the movement on freeing bonded children. Between then and his death, Iqbal made large efforts to reduce child labor by traveling all over the world and inspiring others to his cause. In 1995, he was killed by gunshot on the way to his uncle's farm. The culprit of the murder was never clearly determined-- the members of the BLLF were convinced that it was the carpet masters and the Pakistani government was spreading an absurd story to cover it up ("16th APRIL."). Despite the tragedy that was Iqbal's life and death, his story soon became an inspiration across the globe. The slogan "A Bullet Can't Kill A Dream" was created for him and many were motivated to take up his cause and continue the work he could not complete ("Who Was Iqbal Masih?"). As stated previously, a hero must understand that there is a need for change in the world, want to help make that change, and act on that wanting to make the change. The hero must be curious so that he/she can learn about the world and the struggles and pains of others and realize that things can be different; the hero must be selfless so that he can want the difference to be made for the betterment of others; the hero must be determined to create this change and to take action on making a difference. Iqbal Masih was a hero and inspiration to many due to his constant eagerness to learn, his selflessness through his actions, and his determination towards anything he put his mind to.
Statue of Iqbal MasihRyan Kinser - Flickr [Public domain]Throughout his life, Iqbal displayed an ever-present curiosity and a desire to learn and understand as much as he could. Often, Iqbal's mother would share memories of his childhood with the others in their small village and she was always sure to mention, "He was a nuisance from the moment he learned to talk with his endless questions; watching everything I did, listening to everything I said, always wanting to understand everything" (Croft 6). Although Iqbal's mother found it irritating, his wish to absorb the maximum possible amount of information showed that he wanted to be educated about the world and knew that it would help him go far in his life. Iqbal's constant yearning for knowledge and understanding later allowed him to help many people, as he saw their struggles with child bondage and understood them from his own experiences. After he joined the BLLF, Iqbal's neighbors would ask him many questions about his new life and his many journeys around the world: "He tried to answer their questions as best he could, but all the time he was telling himself that one day he would come back with a proper education and he would really have something to offer them" (Croft 188). Knowing the value of accurate information from his previous experiences with ignorance towards bondage laws, Iqbal realized how knowledge can change someone's perspective on a topic. He wanted to be sure to give others the correct information and wished to have the facts right himself, so he sought a proper education. In her book Child Labor and Sweatshops, Mary E. Williams discusses how Iqbal's intelligence in valuing knowledge and pursuing information helped him closer to his dreams: "The boy's success gained international attention, and in 1994, he won the Reebok Human Rights Youth in Action Award and a future scholarship to an American university" (Williams 7). Iqbal's ambition to learn led him to large successes in life, such as being able to help many children earn their right of being free, for which he received recognition. Also, the attainment of the information that he sought gave him intelligence, which pushed him closer to his goal of attending an American university and earned him a scholarship. Overall, Iqbal's eagerness and pursuit for information pushed him closer to his dreams, allowed him to help more people, and, therefore, categorized him as a hero.
Even after he was released from child bondage, Masih showed great selflessness by placing himself in danger in order to help the others who faced his previous circumstances. Once Iqbal learned about the laws against child bondage experiences such as the one he faced, he was inspired to change the fate of other children that were enduring the same conditions: "If it was true that all bonded labourers were being held illegally, Iqbal wanted to go into every carpet factory and brick kiln in Pakistan and spread the word as quickly as possible, starting with the children who he'd worked alongside for so many years" (Croft 74). Despite finally being free of his master, Iqbal wanted to return to the world of child slavery in order to free his old companions and help others. This selflessness resulted in him putting himself under threat of being recaptured or targeted for helping others escape the grueling, cruel life of child labor, but he didn't mind, as he was doing it for the sake of others. After Iqbal finally escaped and joined the Bonded Labor Liberation front, he was a diligent member of the organization and worked hard to get closer to his ultimate goal of no child bondage: "As a worker with the BLLF, he spoke to children about their rights under laws that outlawed bonded labor, and he freed as many as 3,000 children from bondage. As an international spokesman for the BLLF, he traveled to the United States and Europe calling for an end to bonded child labor" ("16th APRIL."). Learning from his own experience of ignorance towards child bondage laws, Iqbal wanted to do his best to educate others about them, so that he could save as many lives as possible. He went to great lengths and stepped out of his comfort zone to help the other children under bondage by traveling all over the world and addressing large audiences. His passionate drive to help others led him to work incredibly hard and, as only one child, he was able to save the lives of over 3,000 children. When asked about his dreams for the future, Iqbal always replied that, "His dream for the future was to become a lawyer. That way, he reasoned, he could continue to fight for freedom on behalf of Pakistan's seven and a half million illegally enslaved children" ("16th APRIL."). A glimpse at Masih's dreams for the future show that he was so inspired to help others and he enjoyed it so much that he dedicated his future towards freeing others from injustice. His wish to become a lawyer showed that his previous lack of knowledge of laws against his horrible conditions motivated him to learn about the various laws against such injustices and to enable himself to defend others that faced such situations. He didn't want any more people to face what he himself already had. Iqbal's motivation and passion to help others with no regard to his own safety brand him as a hero.
Children honoring Iqbal Masih during World Day Against Child LaborIglesia en Valladolid - Flickr [Public domain]Another trait that made Iqbal a hero was his determination in completing any task towards which he put his mind. When Iqbal saw that his new carpet master did not treat the children in the factory with proper care, he was determined to show him that children must be treated better-- even at his own pain: "He decided to start by showing him what a good worker he was. Then he would explain to him why it was a bad idea to treat people so unkindly. Within hours his hands were covered in painful blisters and cuts, and was struggling to stop himself from coughing from the dust" (Croft 29). Masih worked hard and put himself through endless pain in order to get on his master's good side and explain that he should not treat the children in his factory with such unkindness. He was so determined that he did not even stop to tie a rag around his mouth for protection from the dirty air. Sick of the mistreatment of children in the carpet factory, Masih was constantly looking for a way out, and once he found one, he was sure he never wanted to return: "He and some other children stole away from their carpet factory to attend a freedom day celebration held by the Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF) ...Afterwards he refused to return to his owner. On his own initiative, he contacted a BLLF lawyer and obtained a letter of freedom which he presented to his former master" ("16th APRIL."). Once he was finally free from his bondage, Iqbal was driven to make sure he would never have to return. He was so determined in this goal that, even as a small child at age 10, he took it upon himself to reach out to a lawyer and complete the necessary steps towards his official freedom. Once Iqbal Masih began to work with the Bonded Labor Liberation Front, he quickly, "became a spokesman for the bonded children of south Asia, and he traveled to the United States and Europe to persuade potential buyers to stop purchasing Pakistani carpets until the country enforced its child labor laws. In 1992, as a result of Masih's efforts, Pakistan's carpet sales fell for the first time in twenty years" (Williams 7). As soon as Iqbal joined the cause of the BLLF, he was passionate about the goal and motivated to make a difference in the child bondage world. This created a conviction in him to bring about change that allowed for him to work hard at the cause, traveling to various countries and make grand speeches about his cruel past. As a result of his hard work and dedication, in only the first year of his membership, he created more progress than anyone had before him. Iqbal's determination towards his goals allowed for him help many children around the world and progress further in his ambitions, contributing to his status as a hero.
Because of Iqbal Masih's extreme curiosity, caring selflessness, and steadfast determination, he was able to escape the cruelty of his child bondage, save the lives of thousands of children around the globe, and inspire many others to take up his cause and passion. His curiosity allowed for him to learn much in life, meet many of his goals, and see the possibility for change. His compassion and selflessness allowed for him to want to better the lives of others and bring about a change in his cause. His determination led him to act on his will for change and successfully progress with the difference he wished to make. After his passing, the kindness of Iqbal's actions and injustice of his death encouraged many after him to take up his cause around the world-- the largest and most successful of which being Craig Kielburger and his organization Free The Children: "The 12-year-old Craig Kielburger recruits 11 classmates to help end child labour after he read about the murder of escaped child slave 12-year-old Iqbal Masih. The group chooses the name Free The Children" ("FREE THE CHILDREN"). Originally inspired by Iqbal Masih, Free The Children continues to make a large difference in the child bondage world today. The organization was featured in various magazines, television segments, newspaper articles, and more to create awareness of the cause and raises thousands of dollars every year to support it. Since it was founded in 1995, the same year as Iqbal's death, Free The Children has freed thousands of children across the world and helped to greatly raise awareness of both the presence of child bondage and the laws that are placed against it ("FREE THE CHILDREN"). Many companies and organizations have also been inspired by Iqbal's stirring words and untimely end to take a stand against child bondage (Williams). With his slogan "A Bullet Can't Kill A Dream" ringing true today, Iqbal's ability to live on through the actions of others and continue to power his cause even after death put together with his qualities of inquisitiveness, compassion, and determination label him as a true hero.
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Crofts, Andrew. The Little Hero: One Boy's Fight for Freedom: Iqbal Masih's Story. Chichester, Summersdale Publishers Ltd, 2006.
"FREE THE CHILDREN." Globe & Mail [Toronto, Canada], 28 Sept. 2015, p. E7. Biography in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A430066941/BIC1?u=powa9245&xid=ab85e1b8. Accessed 30 Apr. 2017.
"Who Was Iqbal Masih?" A Bullet Can't Kill a Dream, Mirror Image, Inc., Dec. 2009, www.mirrorimage.com/iqbal/who/who.html. Accessed 16 May 2017.
Williams, Mary E. Child Labor and Sweatshops. San Diego, CA, Greenhaven Press, 1999.