THE TELEGRAPH KOLKATA
Dec. 16: A parent’s worst nightmare came true when a 15-year-old girl who went to see a circus did not return home one-and-a-half years ago in a Bengal village. Today, something that few parents in Bengal or many other parts of the world can rarely hope for also came true: that same girl was found in a trafficker’s hellhole in Delhi and rescued.The perseverance of an unlettered stepmother, the helping hand of a lawyer’s clerk and the caring instincts of a judge and the insistence of the court jolted Bengal police to launch a hunt that took them to the girl who was sold for Rs 5,000 by a trafficker.
A CID team from Calcutta, with the help of Delhi police, rescued a “traumatised” Yasmin Khatun (name changed), now 16, from a hideout in west Delhi’s Begumpur today. “The girl was rescued from a house in a raid carried out jointly by our team and Bengal police early today. She had been kidnapped and kept in a house in Begumpur,” Ashok Chand, deputy commissioner (crime branch) of Delhi police, said.
Nishan Pervez, special superintendent of police, CID, said his team had confirmed that the girl was the same person reported missing from Kakdwip in South 24-Parganas. P. Nirajnayan, IG, Bengal CID, said the girl was “traumatised” and had been sent for medical examination. Plucked away by a gang of traffickers, Yasmin’s story is testimony to the free run gangs of traffickers enjoy in Bengal’s poverty-ridden villages.
Yasmin would have remained another piece of the cold statistics that say 2,500 teenaged girls disappear from Bengal every year but for the combined efforts of an unlikely group of people brought together by the persistence of her stepmother Johora Bibi. On September 18 and 19, The Telegraph had reported the plight of the family and Johora’s crusade to trace her.
Yasmin’s 61-year-old father Khater Bhisti was too preoccupied earning a living by selling fish and it was left to Johora to fight the battle to bring the girl home. (See chart) With the help of Rafique Ahmed Dorji, a lawyer’s clerk, the illiterate Johora climbed the legal stairs one by one and reached Calcutta High Court. The case caught the attention of Justice Sanjib Banerjee who sent the matter to the chief justice.
The case opened a can of worms. At the court’s bidding, the government was forced to admit that over 2,500 teenaged girls had disappeared from Bengal last year. Chief Justice J.N. Patel then asked the police to produce the girl before the court on October 1. The police could not meet that deadline but they did manage a breakthrough in November when a tip-off led them to a 32-year-old resident of Elliot Road, Kalam, who traffics in girls.
Kalam confessed he had sold Yasmin to another trafficker in Delhi, Azhar, for Rs 5,000. It is not clear yet how Kalam came across the girl. Johora had earlier alleged the hand of some relatives. The police laid a trap for Azhar using the time-tested ploy of posing as traffickers and eventually catching up with him in Delhi. (Details in graphic)This afternoon, Yasmin was rescued. According to the police, Yasmin had not been allowed to step outside the Delhi house. The girl was tortured whenever she said she wanted to return home.
Sarbari Bhattacharya, who led the CID team to Delhi, said: “At the moment, the girl is very traumatised. She was crying inconsolably, asking us to reunite her with her parents.” Bhattacharya said Azhar was part of a nationwide prostitution racket. “He has close links with traffickers in Bengal and other parts of the country,” she said. “Azhar used to supply girls to clients in Secunderabad and Goa. They had a wide network. The gang members used to accompany the girls sent to clients in other cities.” If the medical report permits immediate travel, the girl and the CID team will leave for Calcutta tomorrow.
On September 18, Johora had told The Telegraph: “I suspect the traffickers have taken her to a big city in another part of the country, and I wonder if the state police can find her. I can only hope and pray they do.” Today, 89 days later, Johora said: “We are now waiting for her to come home. I can’t say how we spent the last one-and-a-half years.”