Several Delhi-based placement agencies, that claim to provide work to these trafficked girls, are being run illegally and without any registration. These agencies work in nexus with the ‘agents’ who are local tea garden workers and known to the victims.
The ignorant poor parents, who cannot feed their children, are ready to lap up the opportunity of sending the children to Delhi for work. in order to get rid of the their responsibility and also in the hope of getting a regular monthly income.
Once the victims reach Delhi, they stay in touch with the families for a few days. some of them is in contact with the family. But soon they are barred from communicating with their parents and also, money stops reaching their families. Only a handful of them get work as domestic help, while the rest are either sold in brothels or for marriage.
About four months ago, a placement firm by the name Sai Placement Agency lured four girls from the Mateli police station area. Shakti Vahini members rescued the girls with the help of West Bengal Police. The agency was found to be fake and the trafficker Neelima Sharma was arrested after an FIR (number 223/12 under section 363/366/374 dated 21/11.2012) was lodged with the Mateli police.
Though the trend of migration by tribal girls started way back in 2000, the exodus has taken a massive proportion in last five to six years after several tea gardens were declared sick. Many of these tea estates do not even have primary schools and heathcare facilities. There is hardly any penetration by organizations that work for the welfare of the tribals.
Jalpaiguri police are aware of the magnitude of the problem and admitted that there is need to do much more to prevent trafficking. Police’s anti-trafficking activities like awareness programmes are restricted to educational institutions, a place that is out of bounds to the girls here.
“Poverty is the main issue. Unless it is addressed, the girls here will remain vulnerable. Though we cannot do much on that front, we are working on other preventive measures. Few days back we arrested two agents in Banarhat for trying to lure some girls. We need to penetrate deeper into the tea gardens. Officers-in-charge of all police stations have been asked to maintain records of girls who are going away for work, the persons taking them away, contacts of employers in collaboration with the local panchayats,” said Jalpaiguri SP Amit P Javalgi.
The schemes for the poor, like the BPL card and old age pension, are distant dreams. Most are not even aware of the existence of such schemes. There is no effort worth mentioning on part of local politicians for uplift the economic status of this tribal population. A major portion of the funds under schemes like NREGA are being pocketed by local panchayats.
“Recently we found misappropriation of NREGA funds by the local panchayat. Many garden workers were made to sign that they were paid for 100 days work, whereas these illiterate workers were paid only for seven days. We were even threatened by some panchayat members for unearthing this information and educating workers on their rights and dues,” said Omega Minj, a field worker.
Unfortunately NGOs active in anti-trafficking in many pockets of North Bengal seem to have left out these tea gardens of Jalpaiguri.
“We have been working in various parts of North Bengal but we need better penetration in the tea gardens. We will work out with the district administration, police and other stake holders to start off,” said Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini, an orgnisation that has successfully worked with administration and police in Malda.
Going all guns out on the traffickers by the police could only serve a temporary purpose. Till the concerned departments salvage the tea garden community out of poverty and hunger, young women and children will continue to be smuggled unabated from the cursed tea gardens.