INDIA’S BRIDE TRAFFICKING FUELLED BY SKEWED SEX RATIOS

A brother from West Bengal district of Dinajpur after a long search was able to rescue his sister who was trafficked for forced Marriage in Uttar Pradesh
A brother from West Bengal district of Dinajpur after a long search was able to rescue his sister who was trafficked for forced Marriage in Uttar Pradesh

PUBLISHED IN THE GUARDIAN-BY ANU ANAND

Business in brides is booming in north-west India as a result of female foeticide, but the women bought and sold are often trapped in lives of slavery and abuse

Just 90 minutes’ drive from the thriving city of Gurgaon, near Delhi, a business hub in India and home to corporate giants Google and Microsoft, Hari Singh Yadav, landowner, farmer and eldest of seven brothers sits outside his front door and bemoans his bachelor status.

“There are not enough girls from my caste in our village, and I’m already 34 years old, so now no one wants to marry me,” he says. Only three of his brothers have found wives. “Here, if you don’t marry, people shun you. I want to go to [the southern city of] Hyderabad and get a wife but it will cost $1,500. Will you loan it to me?”

In the north-west of India, the business in brides is booming. Skewed sex ratios in states including Haryana, where there are only 830 girls for every 1,000 boys(pdf) and young women being lured away to jobs in India’s booming cities, means men like Yadav are increasingly left with few options when it comes to finding a wife.

“Among land-owning castes in rural areas, female foeticide is rampant because people bitterly oppose laws which say girls should inherit equally,” said Reena Kukreja, who teaches gender studies at Queens University in Ontario, Canada. “So they make sure daughters are never born.”

Nearly 50 years after the introduction of ultrasound technology, which campaigners say has led to the sex-selective termination of up to 10 million healthy female foetuses, families in search of wives are increasingly turning to traffickers to counter their sons’ diminishing marriage prospects.

There are no official statistics on trafficked and migrant brides in India, but according to a survey conducted across 1,300 villages in Haryana and Rajasthan by Queens University, there has been a 30% increase over the past three years in the numbers of women lured or coerced into marriage.

The UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has identified organised bride trafficking rings increasingly operating in Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, where gender ratios are among the least balanced in the country. A 2013 UNODC report (pdf) cites a survey of 92 villages in Haryana which shows that in 10,000 households, 9,000 married women had been bought from poor villages in other states.

The business of bride trafficking is proving so lucrative that local people are setting themselves up as dealers or brokers, sourcing women for families seeking partners for their sons.

Bashir, who refused to give his surname, is from Tijara in the north-western state of Rajasthan. He used to make his living harvesting crops or quarrying rocks. Now he supplements his meagre income by travelling to Assam twice a year – with his own purchased wife – to bring back brides for local village families.

“We tell them they’ll get good husbands here. We pay the families $70-100 [£45-65],” Bashir says, sitting outside his family home. “It’s a community service. We are poor, they are poor, so it’s a win-win situation.”

Yet the reality of these marriages for women bought and sold as brides is often a life of slavery and abuse. The UNODC says thousands of these women are raped, abused, used as domestic slaves and often eventually abandoned.

Sahiba was only 16 when a distant relative told her family in Assam that he could marry the poor teenager into a good home. He took her away, raped her twice and sold her as a bride to a family in Palwal, Haryana, 60km from the Indian capital Delhi. “I didn’t want to be raped again, so I went along with it,” she says. “And I thought it was a real marriage.”

She later discovered from her sister-in law that she had been bought for 13,500 rupees (£135) for her mentally ill husband, whom the family thought no one else would marry. “My blood began to boil and I decided to escape,” Sahiba says. “When I refused to sleep with my new husband, I was beaten and attacked with a knife. ‘We bought you,’ his family told me. ‘You have to obey.’”

Shafiq ur-Rehman is an activist and founder of Empower People, a charity that works with trafficked brides in 10 Indian states, including Haryana, where his offices have been set on fire and his employees shot at by locals. He says women who are bought and sold into marriage are often used as unpaid labourers. “It’s simple economics,” he says. “A local day labourer costs $140 for a season. But a girl only costs $100 for life. If it doesn’t work out, she can be resold and there’s no family nearby to help her. It’s no different from the former slave plantations of the US.”

Ghaushia Khan, 40, an activist, was sold into marriage in Haryana as a young woman and now provides legal aid to other trafficked brides. She says that, once sold, many women are considered worthless by the community they find themselves in. “In 1992, a [trafficked bride] in my neighbourhood was doused in kerosene and burnt alive,” Khan says. “Her skin began to peel off and I would hear her crying out, ‘please give me water’.”

Khan travels throughout Haryana trying to help these brides get access to legal support and assistance. She says few of the women she encounters are prepared to go to the police because they believe that, far from delivering justice, a complaint will leave them further isolated.

Some women, like Farida, have spent decades in villages far away from their families. Only 11 when, 20 years ago, she was sold to a 70-year-old man, her first experience of marriage was rape and violence. She gave birth to the first of seven children soon after. “That same day, I was ordered to get up and cook for everyone,” says Farida.

What is most painful, she says, is that her children have been taught to hate her. “My eldest son says to his grandmother, ‘Why don’t we sell her on? There are many others like her,’” she says. “What can I do? I don’t think I’ll ever see my sister again. I don’t even remember how to get back home.”

Others, like Sahiba, have managed to escape their marriages. Sahiba’s brother spent months tracking her down with the help of lawyers and activists with the Delhi-based Save the Childhood Movement. However, the chances of Sahiba getting any kind of justice or compensation are slim. Save the Childhood Movement estimates that, despite thousands of women being affected, there have been only two or three convictions a year for bride trafficking.

“There’s a very low conviction rate in cases of bride trafficking because the law is so fragmented,” says Rakesh Senger, an activist with the organisation. “One section deals with kidnapping, another with trafficking, another with rape, so cases usually took up to five years to prosecute. There is no inter-state police cooperation either, so it’s difficult to get victims to court to testify. However, with the new rape laws, we’re hopeful things will improve as cases have to be tried within a year.”

Ravi Kant, president of Shakti Vahini, one of India’s most high-profile anti-trafficking organisations, agrees. He says that, despite successfully bringing cases of forced labour – where they have prosecuted families for buying women from another state and forcing them into domestic servitude – they have persistently failed to bring cases of bride trafficking to court.

“We’ve tried to prosecute traffickers and men who’ve purchased wives in at least 20 different cases,” Kant says. “They stay in jail for two to three months, get bail and then either the prosecutor doesn’t actively pursue the case, or the victim never testifies because she’s afraid to face her tormentor again. The local police don’t see the accused as having committed any crime, so they don’t investigate properly, and they make no effort to cross state lines to bring victims to court.”

Sahiba’s future remains uncertain. She says that although she has been rescued, the end of her marriage means she can’t go home to her family. “I can’t go back because of the shame of leaving a husband,” she says.

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CHHATTISGARH’S MASTERMIND TRAFFICKER HELD IN DELHI, HAD THREATENED STATE WOMAN OFFICER TO STOP RAIDS

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PUBLISHED IN THE TIMES OF INDIA

RAIPUR: Chhattisgarh police camping in Delhi for two weeks to traffickers have arrested the mastermind, who is accused of trafficking of over 10,000 minors, mostly tribals, from Chhattisgarh Jharkhand and Assam. Shockingly, the state woman police official leading the team in raids was threatened of dire consequences if she continues the crackdown and also tried bribing her with Rs 10 lakh.

Calling it the biggest breakthrough, state police said that it was for the first time that 15 traffickers and sub-agents were arrested with rescue of 20 minors including boys in series of raids.

Arrested accused Guddu was wanted for 12 cases registered against him for abducting and trafficking of minor children from tribal Jashpur district and many FIRs were lodged against him in other states. Chhattisgarh police were trying to trace him from November 19 after raiding his Guddu placement agency and arresting four other traffickers from there.

Talking to TOI from Delhi, state police officer Mallika Banerjee who’s leading the raids, said that he used to run placement agencies with several other names to play safe and used to mention age above 18 years of all minors he appointed for domestic slavery.

Explaining about how challenging it was to get hold of him, Banerjee said that she was getting continuous threaten from him over phone. “Guddu used to call me midnight, threatening of returning to Chhattisgarh and stop raiding placement agencies. He threatened me of dire consequences claiming that he enjoyed considerable clout in the region. He also tried to lure me and bribe me with Rs 10 lakh to keep mum and return.”

Banerjee said that she was consistent in raids and continued attending his calls to get clue of his locations. “Then I challenged him to meet and discuss the deal on Monday evening. He has brought a briefcase of cash with him and persuaded me but I arrested him then and there,” the police officer said.

The team has seized 700 placement forms from his possession which indicates that there were several more children forced into domestic slavery in Delhi, Jammu, Panipat and parts of Punjab. “Guddu confessed that he was working since 2002 and has trafficked around 10,000 children from several states. We reached him through his sub-agents who were earlier arrested from Jashpur and Delhi. The kids trafficked through Guddu had accused him of beating and thrashing them forcing them to work,” Banerjee added.

Now, police will take him on remand to Chhattisgarh and investigate further based on statements of kids rescued.

Action by Chhattisgarh police in last few days comes in wake of tracing children gone missing between 2011 and May 2014 which turning into an anti-trafficking movement, led to arrest of 15 traffickers and rescue of several children. The chain has been linked and more such arrests are possible in next few days.

Condemning the act of threatening a police officer on duty, Delhi-based NGO Shakti Vahini assisting police in the operation said, “A separate case of threatening a police official on duty should be lodged against Guddu and intense investigation is needed to find out the number of girls he procured from different states.”

Battered Khunti girl rescued

154447890PUBLISHED IN THE TELEGRAPH

New Delhi, Nov. 22: All she remembers is that she was working as a domestic help for about a week in a three-storied house with 10 to 12 members.

Thankfully now, 15-year-old Payel (name changed) is going back home to Khunti, thanks to a couple of Good Samaritans who found her crying on the streets of Mayur Vihar, Delhi, on October 23, battered and bruised, and handed her over to the police.

“It was extremely difficult to trace Payel’s village,” said police sub-inspector Aradhana Singh, head of the anti-trafficking unit in Khunti, who is leading a team from Jharkhand that reached Delhi yesterday to take her back home, along with four other girls who had also been kidnapped from the state.

“She can’t tell the address, but it turns out that her village is in a Maoist-infested hamlet in the interiors of Khunti,” said the policewoman who has pieced together a likely chain of events that led to Payel’s abduction to Delhi.

Payel was at a village fair near her home in Khunti when three women picked her up and put her on a bus to Ranchi.

From there, she was brought to Delhi by train. Days later, she found herself employed as a domestic help in an east Delhi house.

On October 23, a few local residents spotted her on the streets of Mayur Vihar and brought her to the police station from where she was transferred to Snehalaya, a shelter home for girls in north Delhi.

“As a domestic help, Payel was made to do household chores for over 12 hours a day. She was abused and beaten up if she did not follow orders. But she is very confused and, therefore, unable to provide details of the women who had brought her to Delhi,” said Singh.

Based on her conversations with Payel, Singh believes, she was abducted a fortnight before October 23 when she was brought to the Mayur Vihar police station.

Payel, who dropped out of school after her father and siblings died of illness, can’t believe she will be going home. “I want to go to my mother. She is alone there… just like I am here,” she said.

Authorities at Snehalaya, where Payel has been staying for a month, said she keeps to herself. “Most of the time she cries,” said an employee.

Sub-inspector Singh said they had traced four other girls who had been abducted from Jharkhand and had been employed as domestic helps in various parts of Delhi. While two of the girls are from Chaibasa, the others are from Khunti and Gumla.

One of them was brought to Delhi by the network operated by Panna Lal Mahto, a trafficking kingpin who was arrested from Delhi last month.

Now, all of them, including Payel, will be heading for Ranchi on Monday. Their families would be asked to pick them once they reached the state capital, said Singh.

Those working for NGO Shakti Vahini, that helped the police team track the victims in Delhi, rued the fact that trafficking of young tribal girls from Jharkhand was a continuing menace.

“It does not seem the Jharkhand government is serious (about curbing trafficking). Otherwise, the district administrations would be much more vigilant at exit points to keep a check on such cases,” said Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini.

21 states, UTs join Centre in fight against honour killings

HONOUR KILLINGSPUBLISHED IN THE TIMES OF INDIA

NEW DELHI: Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh have joined 18 other states to empower the Centre to bring a legislation against honour killings, in what could be a turnaround moment for the effort to curb the powers of caste and community bodies which seek to be the final arbiter of social mores and arrogate unto themselves the power of judiciary.

In its affidavit to the Supreme Court the Union law ministry has said besides Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Kerala, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Rajasthan,, West Bengal and UTs like Chandigarh, Dadra and Nager Haveli, Daman and Diu, Lakshwadeep and Puducherry, have supported the “Prohibition of interference with the freedom of matrilineal alliances bill.”

Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh — all marked by poor sex ratio and high incidence of gender inequality — have been among the sites of gruesome instances of honour killings in the recent past. For them to sign up to the campaign against honour killings is significant because of the political class’s diffidence thus far about taking on powerful khaps. All the three states opposed an earlier move for a central legislation against against honour killings. In fact the group of ministers set up by UPA on honour killing could barely meet a couple of times in the absence of unanimity on the issue.

The development is also significant because states can be extremely reluctant to delegate their law making powers to the Centre on matters concerning law and order.

Law ministry’s affidavit, comes in response to a writ petition by Shakti Vahini which is scheduled to be heard on November 19.

The proposed bill drafted by the law commission in 2012, was expected to check the high-handed and unwarranted interference by caste assemblies or panchayats with sagotra, inter-caste or inter-religious marriages. In view of the rising number of incidents where young couples were excommunicated, tortured and killed for marrying within the gotra under orders from the Khap panchayats, the law commission recommended a threshold bar on congregation of people for condemning a marriage on the basis that the marriage has dishonoured caste, community or brought disrepute to the family or community concerned.

The penal provision for such unlawful assembly was proposed at imprisonment of six months to a year and a fine of Rs 10,000. The bill elaborated that criminal intimidation of the couple or their families would invite imprisonment ranging between one to seven years and a fine of Rs 30,000. The bill also proposes to make all offences cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable.

Two girls from Bengal rescued in U.P.

10708551_889250171105148_3790056647783502978_oPUBLISHED IN THE HINDU

A heavily skewed sex ratio in Uttar Pradesh is resulting in trafficking and ‘forced marriages’ of many girls from eastern India. The girls are lured by ‘so-called lovers’ and sold to ‘clients or would-be husbands’ at a premium price. The girls are often used as ‘sex slaves’ and then resold. Two girls from the North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal were sold as ‘brides’ on the outskirts of Noida in western Uttar Pradesh. Both the girls, aged 19 years, were rescued by the West Bengal Police in a joint operation with Shakti Vahini, an NGO, earlier this week. Consequently, a major trafficking racket was busted.

In another instance, a minor girl from Uttar Dinajpur district was rescued from Bilaspur district of Himachal Pradesh around the same time.

The two girls from North 24 Paraganas were lured by Akhtar Ali, a resident of the same district. They were forced into marriage to two villagers in Western U.P .who allegedly paid Rs. 40,000 for one girl and Rs 50,000 for the other.

“The girls who are forced into marriages typically end up as slaves. Due to skewed sex-ratio in places such as western UP, Haryana and Punjab, girls from West Bengal and other parts of eastern India are trafficked on a regular basis,” said Rishi Kant, an activist with Shakti Vahini. The number of females per thousand males in Uttar Pradesh is 912, which is below the national average of 940, as per census of 2011.

Physically tortured

After winning the confidence of the girls, Ali took them to Noida in separate trips. The girls were initially confined in the house of Basanti, an elderly woman, who later sold them to Sanju and Tinu of Khatna village and Tulsivihar in Noida, respectively. The girls were practically imprisoned by these men and ‘physically tortured’. However, they managed to get in touch with their relatives in West Bengal, who in turn approached the police and the NGO.

The accused (Basanti and Akhtar Ali and two buyers in UP) have been booked under relevant sections of the law on the basis of two complaints made at the Hasnabad and Deganga police stations of the district,” said Bhaskar Mukherjee told The Hindu, Additional SP, North 24 Paraganas.

According to Sarbari Bhattacharya, an officer with the anti-human trafficking cell of the West Bengal police, the practice of ‘forced marriage’ in the illegal trafficking business, is ‘relatively a new phenomenon.’

“I can recall an incident in 2012 when the remains of a girl were recovered by the police at Khurja in UP, after she was trafficked and forced into a marriage, and then killed and buried,” the officer said.

Trafficked girl awaits aid after 3yrs

143847968Guwahati Telegraph By Pankaj Sarma

Sept. 9: Almost three years after she was rescued from Haryana, a 20-year-old victim of human trafficking from Assam is still awaiting assistance from the state government for her rehabilitation.
Rekha (name changed), who hails from Hajo in Kamrup district, is now struggling for a livelihood as she is yet to get any form of help from the government despite repeated pleas. “Without any source of income, I have become a burden on my family,” she told The Telegraph.

As a result, she is finding it difficult to arrange even two square meals a day for herself and her two-year-old son. Rekha, who was trafficked to Haryana and forced into marriage, was rescued by Shakti Vahini, a Delhi-based anti-trafficking NGO, with the help of Haryana police from Shahpur in Haryana’s Jind district on October 4, 2011.

Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini told The Telegraph that she had written many times to the state government seeking help so that she can sustain herself and take care of her child but till date her efforts have yielded no result.

“After prolonged persuasion, joint secretary of the social welfare department M. Baruah wrote an official letter to the director of the department, Dilip Borthakur, on March 5 this year asking him to look into the matter and do the needful,” he said.

“Six months have passed since then, but unfortunately nothing came of it,” Kant rued. When contacted, Borthakur said one of his officers, who is looking into the matter, is currently on leave.
“I would be able to tell you about its present status only after he returns from leave,” he said.

Rishi Kant said Rekha was trafficked when she was 17 with the lure of a job since she was from a very poor family. “After that she was forced to marry a person named Rakesh, who not only sexually abused her but also forced her to do all the household chores,” he said. At the time of her rescue, Rekha was five months pregnant. According to Kant, they reunited Rekha with her family and sent her back home.

“Her family comprises her father, mother and her child, who are now totally dependent on the daily wage earned by her father, which is not enough to make both ends meet,” he said.
“The girl had appeared for the high school examination before tragedy befell her but could not pass. The situation was truly painful,” he said.
“What was even more painful is that while the girl and her family continue to struggle, the administration has turned a blind eye towards them. Rehabilitation as a post-rescue measure seems to be a lost cause, duly ignored by the authorities,” Kant said.

He said the sordid tale of Rekha exposes the true face of the state government, which otherwise claims to be helping trafficking victims. According to him, because of a lack of specific policy of the state government for rehabilitation of trafficking victims, many survivors of trafficking, who are from poverty-stricken and marginalised families, are left with no other option but to take up prostitution to support their families

Girls rescued from Delhi Rajdhani

index.phpPUBLISHED IN THE HINDU- BY SHIV SAHAY SINGH

The Committee in its order directed that statements of the girls be recorded under Section 164 of the CrPC on their return to the State.

The rescue of three teenage girls in Delhi has once again brought to the fore the problem of trafficking from West Bengal. They rescued girls hail from Gobardanga in North 24 Parganas district.

Huddled inside a toilet of Sealdah-Delhi Rajdhani Express, the girls between 13 and 16 years arrived in Delhi on September 4. But before they could fall into the trap of traffickers, the police took them under their protective custody.

The three Class VIII students were produced before a Child Welfare Committee in Central Delhi on Monday. The Committee directed that a police officer who had reached Delhi from West Bengal should escort the girls to their homes and put them back in school. The Committee in its order directed that statements of the girls be recorded under Section 164 of the CrPC on their return to the State. “Though the girls said that they wanted to escape home, there are inconsistencies in the statement. References to an aunt of one of the three girls who was earlier working as a bar dancer have also emerged in the conversation with them,” Rishi Kanta an activist of Shakti Vahini, told The Hindu over phone from Delhi. When the matter came to the notice of the representatives of the NGO, they informed the West Bengal Government, which sent a police team to Delhi.

“It is a matter of concern how three minor girls reached Delhi, a long way from West Bengal and that too by the Rajdhani Express. Nothing could be revealed during discussion, whether the Ticket Examiner examined their ticket or not. The girls said they came without ticket,” reads a letter addressed to West Bengal Women and Child Development Department and the State’s Criminal Investigation Department by a representative of Shakti Vahini.

As trafficking of women and children continues to be a major concern of the State, NGO representatives suggested that strict vigil should be ensured at every railway station in the State to prevent such cases.

Human trafficking: A phone call to the heart of darkness

trafficking--621x414PUBLISHED IN THE MINT : By Ashwaq Masoodi

Siliguri: It usually starts with a missed call. When the call is returned, the person at the other end of the phone compliments the caller on, say, her voice. Unlike a normal relationship, these “phone relationships” in poor villages of North Bengal take quick leaps. Within a day or two, the person who had given the missed call proposes marriage to the teenager. He doesn’t want to wait. They must elope. There is a promise of love, faithfulness and always a better life in a big city. It’s a promise that is false. As many as 82,101 children went missing across India in 2013-14 (till February), of whom 48,688 were from West Bengal, according to government figures.

A 2004 report by the National Human Rights Commission on trafficking of women and children said that one-third of children reported missing every year in India remained untraced and that many of these were trafficked. Child labour, illegal adoption and prostitution are the main reasons why children go missing. According to National Crime Records Bureau data, 3,940 cases were registered in 2013 under different provisions of the law that come under the generic description of human trafficking. Many of those trafficked end up as domestic workers, working in slave-like conditions. Placement agencies illegally earn Rs.13,000-41,000 crore per year by exploiting an estimated 7-17 million domestic child labourers, according to a report, Economics Behind Forced Labour Trafficking, by Global March Against Child Labour, a non-governmental organization (NGO). “In the National Capital Region, the estimated number of registered and unregistered placement agencies is around 3,000. At least 30% of these engage child labour. Each agency is able to place 60-100 children as domestic workers every year. The agencies receive commissions of Rs.20,000-50,000 per child. They pay the child anywhere between Rs.1,500 and Rs.4,500 per month. This money, too, is often kept by the agency and does not reach the child,” the report states.

On 27 May, a 16-year-old and her family went to attend a wedding, just a few miles from her house in Buraganj village, 32km from Siliguri. Among the guests was Rani, a woman in her 30s, dressed in a gaudy sari encrusted with sparkling crystals, and in distinctive, bright make-up. All eyes were on her and everyone speculated on what she did for a living. Over the wedding meal, Rani started a conversation with the teenager. She asked for her phone number and a photograph. The teenager handed over her details along with a crumpled passport-size photograph she had somewhere in her bag. Two days later, the teenager received a missed call, and called back. The man at the other end introduced himself as Mahesh Mardi. He said a mutual friend had given him her number and photograph. He was already in love with her, he said. Never having received such compliments and flattery before, the teenager believed every word. The youngest of eight siblings, the teenager grew up pampered with hardly any housework to do. The family is not poor by the standards of their village. All the brothers work, some in their own fields, others in the tea gardens close by. The family has cattle, lives in houses built of mud, bamboo and tin, the children have bicycles and the women wear gold. Three days after their first conversation, Mahesh asked the teenager to come to Naxalbari, which is located towards the north of her village. She happily said yes. When she reached, four people including Mahesh and Rani were waiting. Alarmed at seeing so many people, the teenager faltered; she said she wanted to go back home. But Mahesh swore undying love; he would consume poison if she didn’t come with him, he swore. Even more panic-stricken, the teenager tried to run, but Rani held her hand and pulled her into a bus headed to New Jalpaiguri railway station, 32km from her village. At the station, they gave her some food to eat while they waited for a train to New Delhi. Since everyone else was eating, she didn’t suspect anything. The next thing she remembers is waking up at 3am the following day. They were in Delhi. From there it was a short auto ride to a placement agency. Placement agencies rely on sub-agents such as Rani who provide them with information and “recruits”. How much the sub-agent earns depends on the “quality” of the recruit, in terms of how good looking they are. Along with local muscle like Mahesh, the sub-agents take new recruits like the teenager to the nearest bus or railway station to take them to their destination or else hand them over to either a new sub-agent who completes the journey. Moving through several hands, the recruits then land up at the so-called placement agencies for “employment”, a euphemism for slave wages and working conditions, as domestic workers. In Delhi, the teenager was kept in the placement office for a day before she was assigned to an employer. “I said I wouldn’t work. But they didn’t listen to me,” she says. Boys and girls are taken from tea gardens or poor villages to places such as Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Bangalore, Kerala, Kashmir, Bhutan and Sikkim with a promise of jobs or a better life. Nearly 3,600 children from poor families in the shut-down tea gardens of West Bengal migrated to Indian cities and West Asia, to work mostly as child labourers in 2010-11.

Of the total, 317 have gone missing, according to a study carried out jointly by the Unicef, Save the Children (an NGO) and Burdwan University, across 12 tea gardens in the state. The study was carried out between May and July 2011. When no one came to take her back, the 16-year-old told her employer that she had been forced by Rani to take up the job. Infuriated on hearing this, the owner called the placement agency, which decided to send Rani to work on the teenager’s behalf. But within a couple of days, Rani tricked the teenager into believing that she wouldn’t have to work for more than a week, and fled after the 16-year-old resumed her work. Left with no option, the teenager called her brother saying: “I have been sold.” According to the US department of state’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2013, in India, an increasing number of job placement agencies lure adults and children for sex trafficking or forced labour, including domestic servitude, under false promises of employment. “Activists estimate 20% of domestic workers who are rescued from Delhi homes complain of sexual abuse, either by the employer or those in job placement agencies,” the report said. Following the name of the placement agency that the teenager had given on the phone, her maternal uncle and brother filed a first information report (FIR) and headed to Delhi. “We kept calling. It was frustrating because we didn’t even know where to start from,” her maternal uncle, who is a tea garden manager, says. The girl was eventually rescued in a joint operation by NGO Shakti Vahini and West Bengal Police. Nearly a month after her rescue, Rani was arrested as well.

What happens in such cases, NGOs claim, is that only the destination trafficker is arrested and the entire chain of people involved or the racket isn’t busted—which means the investigating officers stop after arrests in the destination states. And because of gaps in investigation, acquittals take place. Furthermore, poor victim-witness protection generally discourages victims from testifying against their alleged trafficking offenders. “For every case of human trafficking, we should involve all the law enforcement agencies across the country and network with them so that all the traffickers from the source area till the destination area are booked,” says Shakti Vahini’s Ravi Kant, a Supreme Court lawyer. Even though a few states have victim compensation schemes, due to inadequate implementation, victims have to wait for several years to receive funds. “The criminal justice system in India is more focused on punishment for the perpetrator. Police efforts are towards punishing. There is no care and protection for the victim. The victim is left on her own to fight her battle. Even if a case reaches the trial level, summons from the place where she was arrested reach her, but not the money. She has to come on her own. In most cases, the state is not a facilitator in getting justice… All this discourages the victims. And if the victim doesn’t take interest, in several cases, it leads to acquittals,” says Kant.

The government has set up the Anti Trafficking Cell under the ministry of home affairs (MHA), launched a certificate course on anti-human trafficking under Indira Gandhi National Open University in partnership with the MHA, and implemented a comprehensive scheme for strengthening law enforcement response by establishing integrated anti-human trafficking units (AHTUs). The ministry released funds—Rs.8.72 crore and Rs.8.33 crore in 2010-11 and 2011-12, respectively, for the establishment of 225 AHTUs. The ministry of women and child development also runs shelter-based homes, such as short-stay homes, and Swadhar homes for women in difficult circumstances, including trafficked victims. The teenager has started going to school again. She says something happens in her spine whenever she tries to dredge up the memory of those 15 days. “I wouldn’t listen to anyone now. I will not let anyone befool me again,” she stammers. Her maternal uncle says that after this incident, even though she is safe and with her family now, she is traumatized. “She cannot complete even one sentence without stopping more than once or without forgetting while speaking,” he says. Over the last few years, many cases of exploitation of domestic help have been reported—almost all of them females—many of whom were abused, some brutally. Early this year, an 11-year-old domestic help from Uttar Pradesh was allegedly starved for days and tortured by her employers (in Thane), who inserted green chillies into her genitals to make her obey their orders. A civil engineer in Bangalore was booked in August for physically and mentally harassing an 18-year-old domestic help in his house. Even though the teenager is still traumatized, she was at least lucky to have escaped; not every story has a happy ending in such cases.

Human trafficking caters to demand for brides

PRP _5014by priyanka-k7YE--621x414@LiveMintPUBLISHED IN THE MINT : By Ashwaq Masoodi

A field study in Haryana found that over 9,000 married women were bought from other states

Jhajjar/New Jalpaiguri: Last year, she was raped by someone she called mausa (uncle) in front of and on the bed of a woman she called mausi (aunt). Then, the mausa sold her off as a bride to a 45-year-old widower, father of a three-year-old, in Haryana. Price of the exchange: Rs.70,000. Haryana, with the country’s worst sex ratio of 879 girls to 1,000 boys, now has to increasingly import brides from poverty-stricken states such as Assam, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Odisha. It’s the same story in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh where female foeticide is high and the sex ratio skewed. According to the 2013 National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report, 24,749 children and women between the ages of 15 and 30 were kidnapped and sold into marriage across the country.

Hundreds of girls and young women are sold into forced marriages in northern India, finds a report by the non-governmental organization (NGO) Shakti Vahini. “They are bartered at prices that vary depending on their age, beauty and virginity, and exploited under conditions that amount to a modern form of slavery,” the report states. A field study on the impact of the sex ratio on marriage by NGO Drishti Stree Adhyayan Prabodhan Kendra that covered over 10,000 households in Haryana found that over 9,000 married women were bought from other states. The study, which covered 92 villages of Mahendragarh, Sirsa, Karnal, Sonepat and Mewat districts, said that most people accepted this as a common practice, even though they personally denied having purchased a bride in their family.

With its blend of poverty, illiteracy, naiveté, trust and betrayal, the story of this family in North Bengal is being repeated in countless villages across India. An old, ailing mother, an estranged son, a 23-year-old illiterate, unmarried daughter, another daughter, and a deaf and mute son—the family’s sole breadwinner making no more than Rs.80 a day by working in a tea plantation.

Most households in the Darjeeling hills and the Dooars-Terai region located in the foothills of the Himalayas depend on the 300-odd plantations located here. In the late 1990s, when tea leaf prices dropped, many owners cut wages and, in some cases, abandoned their plantations altogether. By 2003-04, many tea estates had shut down. Newspapers reported starvation deaths; according to The Times of India, nearly 100 people have died of starvation and acute malnutrition in the five gardens closed in the Dooars since January last year. Five died in June alone. Tall with sharp features and long hair, the 23-year-old lives in a village in Banarhat, nearly 95km from Siliguri. She walks with difficulty and complains of soreness and a constant stomach ache. The weakness caused by malnutrition is evident. Those who could afford to migrate did. But for this family with its physically disabled son, migration was not an option and so they stayed on, even though there were days when the chulha (cook stove) could not be lit. The so-called mausa, Rajendra Pal, lived next door. Originally from Haryana, he had married the teenager’s neighbour by hiding the fact of his previous marriages. It was Rajendra Pal who suggested the family make a trip to Haryana to see a famous godman who, he claimed, would cure them of their chronic problems. He even offered to pay for their travel. The girl was reluctant. “I kept saying I am a woman. They wouldn’t do anything to my mother. They couldn’t have taken anything from my brother. But I am a woman. They can do anything they want to with me, and I will be ruined for life,” she says she told her mother. But Rajendra Pal persisted. She was like his daughter, he said. Just stepping into the godman’s ashram would cure her problems. Why, the godman had even healed mausa’s leg after an accident, he said. The family relented. “The problem with us poor people is that we trust very easily, and we trust everyone,” says the 23-year-old’s elder sister. Three days after they reached Haryana, mausa locked the girl’s mother and brother in a room and raped the 23-year-old. “Mausi was watching and kept asking me not to cry. Let him do what he wants. He is your mausa,” the girl says. Two days later, Pal sold her to a 45-year-old resident of Kheri Mansingh village in Karnal district of Haryana and married the two off in his lawn. He told the girl he would kill her if she tried to run away. There was nowhere to run to. Once, she said, she hid in a maize field for close to 24 hours, hungry and thirsty and soaked in sludge till her waist. She thought she had escaped till they found her again. “I had to do all the household chores—cleaning the house, cooking, rearing the cattle and a horse—and still they kept complaining,” she says.

Brides for sale Large-scale bride trafficking has been taking place in Haryana, Punjab and other low-sex-ratio states for over two decades, say NGOs. Even if the Haryana government ensures that not a single sex-determination test or sex-selective abortion takes place, demographers believe it will take 50 years for the population to stabilize and return to its natural ratio. The challenge before not just Haryana but also western Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan is to ensure that bride demand is not catered through human trafficking. “The governments in these regions should ensure legislations which protect the rights of women and children,” the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)’s anti-trafficking report released in 2013 states.

Many men in Haryana, however, claim that the shortage of brides is not caused by the skewed sex ratio as much as the rising levels in women’s education.“Women here study much more than men do. And she obviously will want to marry a man who has studied at least as much as she has, if not more. This is making it increasingly difficult for lesser educated men to find brides,” says Vinod Bala Dhankar, a social activist and woman khap leader based in Jhajjar district of Haryana. Moreover, bringing in a molki, or purchased bride, actually works out cheaper. “Even if you are poor, you would give a bride from Haryana gold worth at least Rs.1.5 lakh plus clothes and other gifts. But for a molki you only pay for a mangalsutra and a gold ring,” says Dhankar. Strict caste and marriage rules among the Jats of Haryana also place restrictions on marriages between two people from within the same gotra, same village or even adjoining villages. This, too, limits the options before the state’s marriageable men. Faced with these limitations, organized groups of unmarried youth have sprung up in the state with famous slogans such as bahu-dilao-vote-lo (brides-for-votes).

The Kunwara Union (Unmarried Youth Organization) was founded five years ago by social activist Pawan Kumar. A similar outfit, Avivahit Purush Sangthan (Unmarried Union), was set up by Bibipoor village panchayat head Sunil Jaglan to look into the issue of gender imbalance caused by female foeticide. Dhakla village in Haryana’s Jhajjar district has a population of nearly 4,000 people. A narrow, dusty, single lane leads to Rekha’s house. She has tied a dupatta around her head in the form of a bandana, and speaks Haryanavi as fluently and with as much confidence as the locals. In 2007, she came to Sonepat from North Bengal, after her cousin invited her to visit. The day she arrived, she was sold off for Rs.50,000. But Rekha bursts into laughter at the suggestion that she was sold. “I don’t want to think of what happened. Probably I wouldn’t have had such a happy life if I was still with my family. We were very poor,” she says.

Just half a mile from Rekha’s house lives another woman, nearly 30 years old. Five years ago, her sister sold her off to a man who had two brothers, one older and one younger. The two brothers have decided not to marry. The woman, who does not want to be named, says her husband beats her up almost every night and has asked her more than once to leave. Worse, within a month of her marriage, the elder brother tried to rape her. Just last month, he sexually assaulted her again, she says. Even the younger brother has assaulted her twice.

“The scarcity of women has been there for long. But earlier, if a family had four brothers, they would just get one woman and she would take care of everyone and everything,” says Om Parkash Dhankar, Sarv Khap Panchayat coordinator in Haryana. Since the women are “purchased”, men think they can do whatever they want to with them. “In the beginning, brides were imported from adjoining regions like Ganganagar and Rajasthan’s Alwar area, but slowly women were brought from West Bengal, Assam and such states,” says Rakesh Senger from NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan. “These women do not go back to their native places and so their husbands do not feel accountable to anyone. They think they can do anything with them and no one will question them. Because they have purchased them, these women serve both as sex slaves as well as labour slaves for these men.”

Recently, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s National Kisan Morcha president O.P. Dhankar stoked a controversy by saying his party would get girls from Bihar for the unmarried young men of Haryana. More than a month after his controversial statement, Dhankar says: “We cannot stop migration. What we should look for is ways to legalize this process. I think both the source and the destination states should make it mandatory to register these inter-state marriages.”

On September 16 last year, when the 23-year-old was working in the kitchen, she heard someone shout her name. It was her sister accompanied by Haryana Police and NGO Shakti Vahini. When the villagers learned about the joint rescue operation, a huge crowd gathered around her house with knives and sticks, shouting that they wouldn’t let anyone take their bride away as they had paid for her and she was their property. Under police protection, the 23-year-old was brought to the local thana. “Finally I was free. It felt like nothing worse could happen to me any more,” she says. And then a pregnancy test confirmed that she was pregnant. The child, she says, is Pal’s, who is now out on bail. Even though nothing legally stops an investigating officer from conducting an investigation anywhere in the country, Pal has relocated to West Bengal, out of the reach of Haryana Police. “They forced us to withdraw the case against Pal’s wife by emotionally blackmailing us, saying she has a small child,” the 23-year-old’s elder sister says. “But my sister’s life is ruined. Nothing happened to the people who did this to her. When an item in the market is damaged or has some flaw, no one wants it…there are no buyers.”

Tips to tackle trafficking

SHAKTI VAHINI SILIGURIPUBLISHED IN THE TELEGRAPH

Aug. 26: A Delhi-based NGO is organising programmes across schools in north Bengal in collaboration with district administrations to sensitize adolescents to human trafficking which is rampant in the region, especially in the tea garden belt.

Shakti Vahini has already covered 300 government schools in the districts of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar and Malda in the first-phase of the programme that was started around one-and-a-half years ago. “The programme will be implemented in four phases in which we intend to cover all schools in north Bengal. We felt the need to start the outreach programme as human trafficking is rampant in the region. The region is vulnerable to human trafficking because it comprises tea gardens whose workers are poor. North Bengal shares border with Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal, another reason for increased cases of human trafficking,” said Rishi Kant, the executive director of Shakti Vahini.

He said the sensitisation programme was being held in schools as adolescents were the victims of trafficking. Today, the NGO conducted an interactive session as part of the sensitisation programme for 600 students from Class VI to Class XII at Atharokhai Uchha Balika Vidyalaya at Shivmandir in Matigara near here.

“We are conducting one session at a school on a daily basis. At the programmes, the representatives of the NGO speak to the students about the dangers of human trafficking. They are told to be alert to suspicious persons who promise high salaries in lieu of work in cites across the country. The students are also provided with helpline numbers of police and NGO officials to contact them in case they come across human trafficking racketeers in their locality. They are also provided with leaflets with the instructions and helpline numbers,” said Kant.

He said the programme was being implemented in association with respective district administrations. According to Kant, it is imperative that teachers and students keep track of children who are absent from classes for long.
He said half of the 800 people rescued by Shakti Vahini from the clutches of human traffickers in various states of north India belong to Bengal.

“Victims of human trafficking from Bengal are taken to destination like Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab. Children trafficked from Bengal are employed as domestic helps in the cities by illegal placement agencies. We have come across cases in Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh where minor girls trafficked from north Bengal are forced to marry men double their age because of the skewed sex ratio in those states,” said the NGO Officials