It is estimated that almost 8 million people are living in conditions of modern slavery in India (GSI 2018). Around 27% of girls are married before their 18th birthday. The skewed sex ratio in some regions of India has fuelled the trafficking and selling of women and young girls as brides within India. Women are reportedly sold off into marriage by their families, sometimes at a young age, and end up enduring severe abuse, rape and exploitation by their husbands. It is also reported that women and girls from impoverished backgrounds have been lured by promises of marriage by younger men from urban areas, then forced into sex work once married. Shabnam was forced to marry at the age of 13. She tells of how her husband attempted to poison her and poisoned her son. Shabnam finally asked for a divorce and with the help of the Centre for Social Research is now free.
In consultation with local community groups, in 2007 the Natural History Museum commissioned new research into its collections that link slavery and the natural world. The research uncovered experiences of enslaved people and the use of plants in their everyday life, as food, medicines and poisons. It also examined the complex relationships between enslaved people and naturalists exploring newly-colonised lands. The museum ran a series of public events, co-hosted by Race on the Agenda, which aimed to bring the historical, scientific and public viewpoints together. It created online educational resources on themes such as Commercial Plants, Everyday Life, Diet and Nutrition, and Resistance. The museum also developed cross-curricular ideas for school lessons in Science using the context of slavery, looking at foods across different cultures, for example.