There are murders that are not committed just for pleasure, money, or out of bad luck. There are some murders that have higher, more important goals and Iqbal Masih’s assassination was one of them. Because Iqbal was a hero.
Iqbal Masih was a young boy from Pakistan whose bad luck started the day his brother fell in love. Born in 1982, child of a poor family, he used to work in order to help his mother and his sisters, but when Iqbal’s older brother decided to get married, his life would change forever. It was the year 1986, and Iqbal was 4 years old. His family wanted to celebrate its oldest son’s marriage, but there was no money available for something like that. According to tradition, whenever a poor family wanted to celebrate a marriage they had to borrow money from a wealthy businessman, and, as an exchange, the family would offer its youngest member to work for the lender, but they would never repay the loan due to the interest rates. Iqbal Masih got sold as a slave for 600 Pakistani rupees.
Before we continue, we have to make clear that “peshgi,” this kind of agreement between wealthy men and poor families, was commonly accepted in Pakistan. The lender had the absolute power and authority over the borrower, and the working conditions that the children that were given as loan guarantees were under, were worse than we can ever imagine: they worked in sealed rooms avoiding sunlight, which is considered to destroy the carpets they knitted, they were not allowed to talk to each other, they were obliged to work sitting on the floor for more than 12 hours, and, whenever they could not control their tiredness, there was always a guard to wake them up hitting them.
Six years later Iqbal was 10 years old, and his family now owed 13,000 rupees. One day he was informed of a Bonded Labor Liberation Front (BLLF) meeting whose goal was to protect and set free children like him. At that meeting, he learned that the Pakistani government had declared peshgi illegal and they had cancelled the debts. Iqbal was, finally, free to go, but he wanted more. He wanted to set every single child free.
He studied at a BLLF school in Lahore, and he became quite popular as a student. He was determined to complete his work and he did not hesitate to go back to work as an “undercover agent” for the organization. He was the face of every protest against child forced labor and his participation in this big idea obliged many illegal carpet crafts to close their doors.
Gradually, Iqbal became a hero talking publicly about his experience in humanitarian events, giving interviews for the awareness of the important subject of child labor, and cooperating with international activists. People did not see just a child in him because the six years of the Hell he had been through were present, causing him a health development problem. He suffered from psychological short stature (PSS) causing his body development to stop, and, even though he was 10 years old, he looked like a 5-year-old boy. His popularity made him dangerous to those who gained more and more money from child forced labor, and he always received threatening messages. He ignored every single one of them.
On Sunday, April 16, 1995, Iqbal was visiting his family to enjoy the Easter holidays with them. After spending some time with his mother and his beloved siblings, he decided to pay a visit to his uncle along with his cousins. The three boys met, rode their bikes, and headed to Iqbal’s uncle’s house bringing him food from the family meal. A shotgun was fired.
Iqbal Masih died instantly while the one of his two cousins got wounded in the arm, and the other one was not hurt.
Iqbal’s murder still is a mystery, and no one knows who the man behind the trigger is. Some said that it was a neighbor having an argument with a farmer who fired at the boys by mistake and never wanted to kill Iqbal. However, what is, widely, believed is that Iqbal was the victim of an assassination by the leaders of the carpet industry who saw their sales dropping after a 13-year-old boy’s work. One thousand people attended Iqbal’s funeral on April 17, 1995, and his voice remains one of the most important inspiration for fighters against child labor.
Today, millions of children work under the same conditions Iqbal was describing in his speeches, manufacturing carpets, clothes, bricks, cigars, or jewelry. Iqbal would not be happy.