Experts Demand Use of DNA Evidence to Solve Crime in India

AWhere’s The DNA? – World’s Best Crime Fighting Technology

New Delhi, Delhi, India

  • Panel recommends amendment in Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and Indian Evidence Act, 1872 to include scientific investigation in crime
  • Science validates use of DNA as conclusive evidence in heinous crimes
  • Not enough DNA testing as GTH estimates India’s crime labs collectively complete less than 7,500 cases annually
  • DNA collected stuck in huge backlogs owing to lack of DNA testing infrastructure
‘Where’s The DNA?’, first of its kind platform organised by Gordon Thomas Honeywell-GA (GTH) brings together experts from the law enforcement, judiciary, forensics, victim advocacy, academia and media groups to discuss the imperative need to build conviction, exonerate the innocent and solve crime to expedite the Indian criminal justice system! A call to action, and an appeal to law makers and enforcement groups, it is set to promote the use of DNA evidence, the world’s best crime fighting technology!

Supporting the move, Senior Advocate Rupinder Singh Suri, President Bar Association Supreme Court of India, said, “DNA evidence is key to justice delivery system! An invaluable tool, with 100% accuracy and reliability for exonerating individuals who have been wrongfully convicted. The conventional methods of investigation by the I.O/police are a passé being obsolete and unproductive. It is the scientific investigation only which kick starts the hunt for the criminal.”

CThere is presently no specific provision under Indian Evidence Act, 1872 and Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 to manage science, technology and forensic science issues. Due to lack of having any such provision, investigating officers have to face trouble in collecting evidences which involves modern mechanisms to prove the accused person guilty. Senior Advocate Ashok Bhan, senior member of executive of Supreme Court Bar Association, added, “There is urgent need to sensitise the law makers to incorporate provisions in CrPC and Evidence act to manage science and technology in investigation of crimes and trials.”

The law machinery world over is increasingly relying on DNA forensics to solve crime, whereas, India is way behind in adoption. Lack of scientific methods in investigations and absence of a proper policy framework in the country are hampering justice. “India, needs a more aggressive DNA ‘Collect, Test and Compare’ approach for faster convictions and disposal of cases by courts,” says, Tim Schellberg, President, GTH-GA. He adds, “Over 60,000 DNA tests are completed for crime scenes annually in the United Kingdom and GTH estimates crime labs in India able to complete only 7,500 cases tested annually. This is a shockingly low number considering India’s size of population is thirteen times greater than the United Kingdom!”

Explaining the science underlying the use of DNA evidence, Dr. Durgadas Kasbekar, INSA, Senior Scientist, Center for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD), further qualifies, “DNA evidence is sufficiently conclusive to solve crime as only monozygotic twins share the same DNA profile. Different tissues; teeth, bones, blood (a drop is enough), spit, semen-detected on cloth using specific staining procedures, skin cells sloughed off with sweat, yield the same DNA profile if they are from the same individual.” Therefore, outside of identical twins, no two people have the same DNA pattern.

Sharing his perspective, Senior Advocate, Vivek Sood, Delhi High Court talked about DNA evidence as the right to fair investigation that must be made a part of the DNA of Criminal Justice in India. He said, “Fair and competent investigation in a criminal case is the backbone of criminal justice in any society. Collection of DNA evidence is equally important from the perspective of the prosecution as well as the accused. Hence, collection of DNA evidence, in appropriate cases can be said to be in compliance with Article 21 of the Constitution of India which guarantees to every person the fundamental right to life and liberty.”

BTalking of strengthening investigations by DNA Profiling, Ravi Kant, Advocate in the Supreme Court of India and President of Human Rights organization, Shakti Vahini (working on anti-human trafficking and issues related to violence against women and children) expressed, “If India has to send a strong message to perpetrators of crimes and to instill the fear of the law we have to ensure that evidence collection has to be strengthened. Crime scenes have to be forensically examined, crucial evidences collected, scientifically examined & analysed. DNA Profiling offers one of the most reliable forensic evidence which can be very helpful in solving of cases”.

The session was moderated by Senior Journalist Sidharth Pandey at the Indian Law Institute, New Delhi, witnessing active support from experts, demanding use of DNA evidence and scientific approach to solve crime in India. The panel was represented by:

  • Tim Schellberg, Founder & President, Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs
  • Advocate G P Thareja, Retired and Additional District & Sessions Judge
  • N. Ramachandaran, President, Indian Police Foundation
  • Dr. Durgadas Kasbekar, INSA Senior Scientist
  • Senior Advocate Vivek Sood, Delhi High Court
  • Advocate Ravi Kant, Supreme Court of India

The panel established importance of DNA Profiling Board – A statutory body to be constituted in pursuance of 271st Law Commission Report on DNA Profiling which would undertake functions such as laying down procedures and standards to establish DNA laboratories and granting accreditation to such laboratories; and advising the concerned Ministries / Departments of the Central and State Governments on issues relating to DNA laboratories. The Board shall also be responsible to supervise, monitor, inspect and assess the laboratories. It will frame guidelines for training of the Police and other investigating agencies dealing with DNA related matters. Advising on all ethical and human rights issues relating to DNA testing in consonance with international guidelines will be another function of the Board. It will recommend research and development activities in DNA testing and related issues, etc.

Experts concluded that India must formulate rigorous quality assurance and accreditation programs for DNA testing for implementing the DNA evidence in criminal investigations. This would clearly mark distinction made between human error, attempted fraud and technical failures. While low adoption rate can be attributed to poor infrastructure and lack of policy push, the root of the problem is knowledge gaps and misconceptions about DNA forensics across all levels of our society and this dialogue and campaign on, ‘Where’s The DNA?’ is designed to eliminate just that.

About GTH-GA

Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs is globally recognised public affairs consultancy firm that has expertise with forensic DNA database policy, legislative, and law. For nearly twenty years, consultants at GTH-GA have consulted in over 50 countries and states on legislation and policies to establish or expand criminal offender DNA databases. GTH-GA collaborates closely with governmental officials, crime labs, police and the DNA industry. GTH-GA operates the DNAResource.com website that has been used as the world’s primary source for DNA database policy and legislative information since 2000.

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Survivor Volunteers as Bait to Net Traffickers

Published in the Times of India:

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KOLKATA: A 30-year-old trafficking victim from the Bishnupur area of South 24 Parganas took it on herself to act as a bait for cops and led them to the arrest of four traffickers on Monday . The woman was trafficked to Delhi five years ago and has been facing threats after being rescued soon after.

Threatened repeatedly to withdraw her case, the victim was even offered a huge amount to change her statement against the traffickers. The victim is a resident of Bishnupur’s Damdama.
For a woman who can barely make her ends meet -working as a daily labourer -it was an offer hard to refuse.She agreed to meet her tormentors at Sonarpur railway station on Monday night, but her motive was to use herself as a bait and help cops nab all the accused. Before meeting the accused, she had sent an SOS to NGO Shakti Vahini -which had rescued her fiver years back. The NGO in turn informed the top brass of South 24 Parganas police, who promised her of all help.
“Every bhaiphota they would re turn, bringing back painful memories.I decided to end it. My mother took the first step. She took down the numbers of the two female traffickers, one of them was identified as Deepali. They had come to my house to settle the matter. I called Deepali and recorded the conversation. When cops reached my house on the night of the operation, they asked me to ensure that I get as ma ny traffickers out in the open as possible. So I called up Deepali and claimed my mother-in-law was sick and was admitted at a Kolkata hospital,” said the victim.

The 30-year-old had demanded Rs 1 lakh so that heads of the gang get involved in the affair. “On Monday , the tormentors asked me to come to Baruipur but I refused. Later, we settled for So narpur platform 4. Even then Deepaili kept insisting me to go near an overbridge. But when I said I have to go to Kolkata for my mother-in-law’s treatment, they offered me a car ride. That is when they all showed up and the cops arrested them,” added the girl.
“It would not have been possible without the courage the woman displayed all through,” said a senior officer of Bishnupur police police station.
According to Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini -the NGO who stood by her in her fight -the incident shows how well-organized the trafficking gangs are. “The next court hearing is in December where a sentencing is expected. The traffickers desperately wanted her to retract her statement – a pressure she had been withstanding since 2014. All the other five girls rescued along with her had retracted their statements, but she had even travelled to Delhi’s Tis Hazari court to record her statement,” said Rishi Kant.
Cops said, it all started when a chance raid in GB Road by Delhi police on October 23 in 2012 led to the girl’s rescue. On November 11, 2012, the victim was given in custody of her father.

‘This is your Taj Mahal, you have been sold’: Traffickers lured six Bengal girls with trip to famous landmark, before telling them to prepare for life in a BROTHEL

By Mail Today:

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The girls, aged 17-19, from Sundarbans, did not tell their families about the trip. Traffickers lured them by saying they would be taken to the Taj Mahal. Instead, they were taken to Agra’s red light district, beaten and raped. Police rescued the stricken girls from tiny, dark and foul-smelling bunkers and tunnels in the brothel.

The mesmerising Taj Mahal, considered a monument of love across the world, is being used as bait by sex traffickers to catch young girls from far-flung parts of India and push them into prostitution.

Authorities have recently rescued six Muslim teenagers belonging to the tribal Sundarbans area of West Bengal, who were trapped by a prostitution syndicate. They were lured with an offer of being taken on a tour of the stunning 17th Century mausoleum in Uttar Pradesh’s Agra city.

The girls, aged between 17 and 19, said they had not told their families about the promised trip.

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The mesmerizing Taj Mahal, considered a monument of love across the world, was used as bait by sex traffickers to lure teenage girls from a far-flung part of India

They were first brought by bus to the Sealdah Railway Station in Kolkata, then by train to New Delhi, later Ghaziabad and finally to Agra’s red-light area of Kashmiri Bazaar.

When the girls raised questions about the suspicious location, their traffickers allegedly said, ‘This is your Taj Mahal. You have been sold. Be prepared to live all your life here now.’

The girls were rescued from the tiny, dark and foul-smelling bunkers and tunnels in the brothel on May 23, and at least 13 people have been arrested, including the female bordello owner, Meena.

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The girls, aged 17-19, from Sundarbans, did not tell their families about the trip (picture for representation only)

The trafficked girls were sent home with the Bengal police team on Friday.

Assistant sub-inspector Prabir Boll of the Mathurapur Police Station in West Bengal said: ‘We received a missing complaint from one of the girl’s mother on March 24 following which we put her mobile on surveillance.

‘We discovered that the number was active in Uttar Pradesh, Agra. Unfortunately, by the time we could establish links with our counterparts there and organise decoy customers, the girls had already been much exploited. They had been beaten with lathis and brooms, repeatedly raped and threatened into submission.’

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Innocent young girls – who survive on barely two meals a day, have little or no education and have not seen anything beyond their small villages – are most desperate to escape to bigger cities and towns

Lack of livelihood means takes thousands of girls and boys out of Bengal’s border areas every year.

While some girls are exploited as poorly paid and abused housemaids, several others end up in Delhi’s GB Road and other red-light areas in India.

Investigators say although shocking, this is just a new modus operandi in fetching girls from one of the most impoverished areas of India – North and South 24 Parganas.

Innocent young girls – who survive on barely two meals a day, have little or no education and have not seen anything beyond their small villages – are most desperate to escape to bigger cities and towns.

‘Agra has become a crucial junction in the trafficking triangle of Bengal, Delhi and Mumbai. This is like a sabzi mandi (supermarket) where girls are brought and traded, with the fact that it is a heavy tourist spot providing them easy cover or camouflage,’ said BS Tyagi, circle officer of the Chhata Police Station in Agra, which raided the brothel.

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According to government data, almost 20,000 women and children were victims of trafficking in India in 2016, a rise of nearly 25 per cent from last year (Photo for representation only)

‘Girls are taken several kilometres away so that language becomes a barrier and they cannot talk to police or customers.

‘Bengali girls are brought to UP and UP girls taken to interiors of Bengal. It’s a highly organised business with tentacles spread far and wide,’ he added.

Rishi Kant, co-founder of the anti-human trafficking NGO, Shakti Vahini, which counselled the victims, said: ‘These girls told us that they were taken in an AC bus from Ghaziabad to Agra which shows that these people have money power also.’

According to government data, almost 20,000 women and children were victims of trafficking in India in 2016, a rise of nearly 25 per cent from the previous year, with the highest number of cases recorded in West Bengal.

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Men often coerce gullible schoolgirls into sharing their mobile numbers, then taking them out for a drink or snacks and mix sedatives in them. By the time the girls wake up, they are already on the way to Delhi or Mumbai

Ajay Ranade, IG South Bengal, told Mail Today: ‘Sadly, human trafficking is a rampant problem in the state. For the same reason we have recently started the Swayamsiddha (self-empowerment) programme in class VIII to XII in 500-700 schools in our area.

‘We hold counselling classes and have set up drop boxes in schools so that girls can report to us if they are being forced into child marriage or if any boy is stalking or harassing them.

‘Men often coerce gullible schoolgirls into sharing their mobile numbers, then taking them out for a drink or snacks and mix sedatives in them. By the time the girls wake up, they are already on the way to Delhi or Mumbai.’

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Assam trafficking figures present grim picture

By The Telegraph:

A total of 259 children from Assam were trafficked in the past two years.19.jpg

According to latest figures released by the Union ministry of women and child development, 129 and 130 children of the state have been trafficked during 2015 and 2016 respectively.

These figures present a disturbing picture. The situation on the ground, however, could be far worse as many cases of trafficking go unreported.

Though the cases of child trafficking in Assam have remained almost same in the past two years, the cases of women trafficking has shown a declining trend in the state in 2016 compared to the previous year, which is seen as a positive development.

The number of women trafficked from the state has come down to 163 in 2016 compared to 187 in 2015.

According to data for 2015, released by the National Crime Records Bureau, Assam has emerged as the trafficking hub of the country.

With 1,494 cases, the state accounts for 22 per cent of the total reported cases of trafficking across India.

Assam also has the highest number of child trafficking – 1,317 cases – which account for 38 per cent of the national figure.

The ministry of women and child development is implementing Ujjawala, which is a comprehensive scheme for the rescue, rehabilitation and re-integration of victims of trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation.

Rishi Kant, a member of anti-trafficking NGO Shakti Vahini, described the decline in number of women trafficked from Assam as a positive sign. “It is an indication that the police, administration and NGOs working in this field have taken the issue seriously and are working in the right direction,” he said.

Shakti Vahini was involved in the rescue of women and children trafficked from Assam in Delhi and Haryana.

The number of women and children trafficked from other northeastern states is almost negligible as last year’s figures were in single digits, except in Manipur where 16 women were trafficked in 2016.

Delhi Commission for Women asks couple to pay Rs 2 lakh to help

By TOI:

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The Delhi Commission for Women has directed a couple accused of denying wages to a domestic worker for two years to pay her Rs 2,18,717 within seven days. The commission has put the onus of ensuring compliance of this order on the labour department.

 In the same order, DCW said that since the 25-year-old victim had been declared a bonded labour by the sub-divisional magistrate of Punjabi Bagh, she was entitled to a compensation of Rs 3 lakh under the revised central scheme for rehabilitation of bonded labour that came into effect in 2016. The woman’s home district in Jharkhand is supposed to pay her this compensation. DCW has, therefore, directed the magistrate to issue a bonded labour certificate to the woman to facilitate the compensation process when she returned to home. Currently lodged in a temporary shelter in Delhi, the woman is to be repatriated to Jharkhand by Delhi Police.

In the February 17 order, DCW chairperson Swati Maliwal recalled that the commission, with Delhi Police, had rescued the woman in May last year from an apartment in Paschim Vihar following a complaint by NGO Shakti Vahini. A placement agency had been involved in bringing the woman from Jharkhand, but the agency owner had not been traced.

“The victim alleged that she was not allowed to step out of the house and was beaten up frequently by her employers. Further, she alleged that she was not paid any wages. She also alleged that she was not given food properly by the house owners,” DCW noted.
After hearing both sides, DCW established that the victim was engaged to work as a domestic worker by the employers through the Kamat Placement Agency. The employers told the commission that they paid the placement agency, not the woman, Rs 22,000 in the first year, Rs 13,000 in the next six months and Rs 6,600-7,000 for the next three months. They conceded that wages for 18 months remained unpaid. But since they had no receipts to substantiate the payments made to the placement agency, DCW ordered the payment of wages for the entire period from May 2014 to May 2016.

Teenager Survives rape, Torture and Sex trade for 5 years.

By Mail Today :

15-year-old girl was brought to Delhi on the pretext of job, but was raped repeatedly for five years.
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Teenager Survives rape, Torture and Sex trade for 5 years

She was brought to Delhi at the age of 15 on pretext of job. Since then she has been confined and raped repeatedly. She was also forced into prostitution and few days back when she refused to sell her body, the person who brought her to Delhi tied her and left her starved for more than three days.

The accused assaulted her, raped her, sodomised her and beat her up. He had even tried to pluck her tongue using pliers.

On Tuesday when the accused, identified as Litu Mitra, 30, stepped out of his residence in Southeast Delhi’s Govindpuri area, he left the door open. Taking the advantage of the situation, the captive Jyoti (name changed), who is 19 now, managed to escape. She reached an NGO in that area, which helped her to approach the police.

CASE REGISTERED

A case has been registered and Mitra was arrested on Friday. Narrating her ordeal, Jyoti toldMail Todaythat in 2013 she met Mitra, while she at a railway station in West Bengal. The man promised her a job in Delhi and boarded the train with her. Mitra asked her to stay at his rented residence in Govindpuri.

After two days, he raped her and filmed it. He used to blackmail with the tape and raped her repeatedly. Few months later, he allegedly forced her into prostitution. “His friends and customers have raped me, for which he got paid. Whenever I resisted, they complained about it to Mitra and he had beaten me up in front of them. And then I was forced to do what they wanted,” a pained Jyoti told Mail Today.

She had tried to escape a number of times but to no avail. Mitra has been unemployed and Jyoti became a source of income for her. She told police that there have been days when Mitra brought along seven to eight clients a day. Her medical report is with Mail Today.WHAT HAPPENED

On April 22 she was asked to serve some clients in Noida. When she objected Mitra beat her with iron rod and pipe. Then having tied her with a rope he raped her. He allegedly sodomised her as well. Jyoti has severe injuries on her chest too. “Whenever I had raised my voice, he grabbed my mouth and held my tongue with pliers.”

“On Tuesday at around 5pm, when Mitra stepped out, I noticed the door was left open. After I managed to escape, I reached a shop, luckily the owner of which ran an NGO. He helped me to approach the police,” she said.

Speaking to Mail Today, Naresh Kumar, the mentioned shop owner recalled that when she reached his shop, she was shivering. She narrated her woes and showed her injuries.

A call was made to the police control room and she was taken to Govindpuri police station. From there she was taken to the hospital for medical aide and check-up.

“Based on her statement, a case under Section 376, 366A, 323, 354C of the IPC and 6/12 POCSO Act has been booked against Mitra, who remained absconding for up to four days,” Romil Baaniya, DCP (southeast) said, adding he has been arrested on Friday evening.

 

Jharkhand’s Missing Children: Rampant Trafficking, Helpless Parents and Growing Anger

By The India EXPRESS: 

Jharkhand: From an area known for its lost children, The Indian Express tells a story of rampant trafficking, helpless parents, indifferent government, and growing anger
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Budhi, whose 12-yr-old daughter is missing for nearly a year now, with her other daughter Dori at their house in Nagaon village in Chaibasa. (Source: Express Photo by Subham Datta)

Seven people were killed by tribal mobs following rumours they were child-lifters, near Jamshedpur recently. From an area known for its lost children, The Indian Express tells a story of rampant trafficking, helpless parents, indifferent government, and growing anger

BUDHI Sandil has been waiting for her 12-year-old daughter for nearly a year now. “A person I knew in my village approached me and said he would take her to Delhi for a year. That she would get proper education there and work as a domestic help. They promised me Rs 40,000 at the end of the year,” says the 32-year-old widow, a mother of three.

Showing the photo of a slender girl, in short hair and a school uniform, her only photo of her daughter apart from the one in her Aadhaar card, Budhi remembers the date she left home. It was February 16, 2016. But she no longer remembers what the 12-year-old was wearing. Budhi accompanied her from their Latarshahi tola to the edge of their Nagaon village.

The tribal girl was first taken to Goelkhara in Chaibasa district, and then to Delhi. For the first couple of months, Budhi says, she was allowed to talk to the family. “She said she did not like the place. Call me home, she would cry.”

Then, the calls stopped. “In August, they said my girl had gone missing from Delhi. I asked them to find her, they did not respond and instead asked me to keep shut,” claims Budhi. “We informed other villagers, we planned a meeting. I received phone calls from persons who claimed to be police officers who threatened me,” says Baldeo Sandil, the girl’s uncle.

Scared, Budhi says she didn’t go to police but approached the local unit of Childline, which is supported by the Union Women and Child Development Ministry. Finally, last week, after The Sunday Express visited her home with Childline officials, a complaint was lodged in the case. “We are looking into it. There are many such cases in Chaibasa and other areas of Jharkhand,” says Anish Gupta, Chaibasa police superintendent, who has managed to successfully trace many of the “missing” children from here.

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At Govindpur village near Shobhapur, where the lynchings happened, tension prevails. (Source: Express Photo by Subham Datta)

Latarshahi tola is located around 100 km from Shobhapur and Nagadi villages, near Jamshedpur town, where seven people were killed on rumours of being “bachcha chor (child lifters)” by a tribal mob over the night of May 17-18. The rumours against the seven had no basis. The tola has 150 houses, most of them of daily wage labourers or small farmers. Budhi’s husband died four years ago and she works in the fields earning Rs 120-150 a day.

Hundreds of children have gone missing from tribal-dominated areas of Jharkhand over the years. There are no records of others as parents, such as Budhi, rarely lodge a complaint. On March 29 this year, replying to a question in the Rajya Sabha, Minister of State, Home, Gangaram Ahir said 109 trafficking cases had been reported in Jharkhand in 2016, the fifth highest in the country in a state that ranks 16th in size. In April this year, 29 girls from Jharkhand were rescued in Delhi alone.

In Chaibasa, Childline receives 30 cases of missing children and trafficking on an average in a month. In 2016-17, 231 such cases were either registered or referred to it. That was a lucky year as they were able to retrieve 228 of the children. Most children were rescued from Delhi and adjoining areas. Says Chaibasa SP, Gupta, “We have rescued girls from factories and from areas where they work as domestic helps.”

Officials say the racket is spread across the interior villages, with girls taken to Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Mumbai and Kolkata, where they end up in brothels, sex rackets or as domestic workers. “Poverty and unemployment are the main cause for parents sending their children away. Traffickers offer Rs 5,000 a month, which is a very big sum for the tribals,” says Rajesh Pati, who is associated with Childline.

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A growing number of tribals at Shobhapur village and other areas now have smartphones and are on social media (Source: Express Photo by Subham Datta)

Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini, which has been helping the administration rescue the girls from different parts of the country, says, “Though police have cracked down on some gangs, others operate freely. Apart from Gumla, Khunti and other areas, child trafficking is on the rise in Simdega and Chaibasa areas… Children are mostly lured through placement agencies, with tribals who are trusted in the villages acting as middlemen. The kingpins are based in Delhi. For instance last year, one Pannalal Mahato who is suspected to have trafficked nearly 30,000 girls from Jharkhand was arrested by the police from Delhi. Mahato made crores and owns huge properties in Delhi and Jharkhand.”

Gupta says he arrested the kingpins from Delhi as well as middlemen and women while he was posted in Khunti. “From 2005 to 2014, the state government data shows 3,838 missing children, of whom 1,177 are yet to be found. 675 FIRs were lodged in this period. On the ground, the numbers are much higher,” says Baidnath Kumar, a child rights activist in Jharkhand.

***

Jharkhand’s 32 tribal groups together constitute 26.2 per cent of the state’s total population. More than 91 per cent of them live in villages. Districts such as West Singbhum, Gumla, Ranchi, Lohardanga, Pakaur have a high tribal population. Most tribals are engaged in agriculture or work as artisans, while a small section are hunter-gatherers. Lack of irrigation restricts them to one to two crops a year, while there is almost no agriculture in most areas during the summer months.

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Sheikh Salim’s wife Naseema Khatun (right) and mother Rehana Khatun with his picture at their home at Haldiphoker near Jamshedpur. Sheikh Salim was one of the four victim who was lynched on May 18. (Source: Express photo by Subham Dutta)

This has led many tribals to migrate for work. According to NGOs in the state, while over 5 per cent of the state’s population migrates in search of work to other states every year, this figure is 15 per cent in the tribal-dominated districts such as Dhanbad, Lohardanga and Gumla. Over 80,000 people travel from Dhanbad to Howrah in West Bengal every year for jobs, say NGOs.

“Work is available here, but people are migrating out. In the process, children are being trafficked. Tribal society is particularly vulnerable and scared. There is a need for awareness. Not only government agencies but NGOs also need to play a role,” says Nilkanth Singh Munda, the state Minister for Development, Panchayati Raj and Rural Work.

Baldeo of Latarshahi tola, whose niece is missing, says that in lean months, it is difficult for them to earn anything. At most, he says, they get work for two to three days in a month under the MNREGS. “Receiving payment is another ordeal. To collect the Rs 780 weekly payment, we have to spend Rs 300. The bank is far away and we have to make two to three trips to get the money. And then there is a middleman too.”

As per the 2011 census, at 57.1 per cent, the literacy rate among the Scheduled Tribes in Jharkhand is far below the national average of 74.04 per cent. Apart from the low literacy rate, high unemployment and poverty, what also makes the tribals vulnerable is the presence of Naxals in these areas. The districts with a high rate of missing children and trafficked children are also the ones affected by Naxal violence. Villagers say the Naxals are looking for children to join their ranks, and many of them send their children away so that they can be “safe”.

Gupta says that more than Naxals, the region now has the presence of the Peoples’ Liberation Front of India (PLFI), a splinter group. “The PLFI survives on extortion and, with development coming to these areas, they are trying to spread their base. The PLFI provides shelter to the traffickers in exchange for money,” the police officer alleges. The Naxal fear is another reason the tribals keep away from police, afraid that they might be branded as informers by the insurgents, a fact confirmed by the police officer.

***

According to police and NGOs, tribal girls are most sought after because their parents agree to offers of even small wages due to poverty. Their parents are also generally scared of approaching police, a point repeated again and again by tribals in the wake of the lynchings.

Archana Singh, a celebrated police officer who headed the anti-trafficking unit in Khunti district and retired early this year, agrees that the fear of being turned away makes most tribals reluctant to approach police. “Initially, the parents did not come to us. However, when we started to rescue girls from Delhi and other areas and brought them back, they started coming to me in groups whenever I visited the villages. They would ask, ‘Will you bring my child back?’. It was emotional for us too, reuniting the families, in the small way we could,” says Singh.

“From 2014 to early 2017,” she adds, “we were able to arrest 80 traffickers, including kingpins from Delhi. It was hard since traffickers wielded dabang-like powers and were very well connected. We rescued hundreds of girls from Delhi and other parts who hailed from Khunti district. But this is one district and just the tip of the iceberg.”

Gupta says they are trying to sensitise police officers towards the concerns of tribals. “But old habits die hard. It is true that a section of officers in police stations do not make it a priority to heed trafficking cases of children.”

At the fag end of 2016, the state passed The Private Placement Agencies and Domestic Workers (Regulation) Bill to regularise private placement agencies on the initiative of Chief Minister Raghubar Das. The bill makes it mandatory for placement agencies to register themselves and keep records of the women they find jobs for and their work location. It also makes it mandatory for all transactions to be made through banks. It is awaiting the Governor’s nod.

“It is true that many of our girls are trafficked outside. But hundreds of girls are being rescued and handed over to their families. We are tracking placement agencies. Traffickers both in Delhi and other areas, the middlemen in Jharkhand, are all being arrested. It is taking time but we will tackle this,” says Louis Marandi, Minister for Social Welfare, Women and Child Development.

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The rumours of child-lifters being on the prowl in the tribal areas began circulating around a month ago, and quickly spread. Even the most interior villages in Jharkhand now have mobile connectivity, and the recent offer of cheap data and voice calling by Reliance Jio has prompted many to buy smartphones and join social media. As the rumours passed from phone to phone, the government was caught completely unawares.

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80-year-old Guruprasad Verma, grand father of the victims lynched in Bagbeda breaks down at his residence on Tuesday in Jamshedpur. (Source: Express photo by Subham Dutta)

A WhatsApp message in Hindi, that sounded like an official release, warned people against child-lifters and listed three fictitious incidents of child-lifting on May 9 and May 10 in different areas of East Singhbhum. Many of the messages even included images of the children.

“In my village, almost everyone now has a cellphone. The youth now spend all day huddled together, watching something or the other,” says Govind Murmu, a 60-year-old from Shobapur village. The messages also coincided with the leanest season for agriculture in these parts, leaving many youths unemployed.

Tana Murmu, 19, sitting with his friends at a Shobhapur chowk, says the phones have brought the world to them. “You are from Kolkata. I have been to Dumdum in Kolkata once. We listen to Santhali and Hindi songs on the phone, watch dances, see movies.”

Ramesh Hansda, tribal leader and BJP state committee member, says social media has become a “curse” in spreading the child-lifting rumours. “Social media is new here and the youth are attracted to it. They believe what social media says is true. When the messages and images of ‘child lifter’ started circulating, they believed them.”

Tribals say they approached police soon after the rumours first spread, but were turned away. On May 9 and 10, they claim, some “child-lifters” were even caught near Nagadi village, but police still didn’t listen. However, they could not give details of these alleged child-lifters. Soon parents started keeping their children indoors, and many stopped them from going to school.

Gurucharan Mahato, headmaster of Govindpur middle school, located just a kilometre from where the lynchings happened, says, “Parents were scared. Some of my students also told me about the rumours.” About 15 km away Govindpur, in Uttar Kamardi village, tribals talk of spending nights on guard for the past month with bow and arrows and lathis, to keep away child-lifters. Uma Murmu, a mother of three, whose husband works as a daily wager, says she takes her children along even when she goes to the village well.

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Advertisement placards of Bikas Ceptic tank at Nagadi village. The youths who were lynched visited the area to put up placards but were lynched as child lifters. (Source: Express photo by Subham Dutta)

Pratibha Murmu, the mukhiya of Govindpur village, says rattled by the rumours, they had planned a gram sabha on the issue on May 18, which got scrapped when the lynchings took place hours earlier. “There is fear and anger among the tribals,” she says. “In my area and most others, children have either stopped going to schools or are being escorted everywhere by their parents. During afternoons, mothers don’t want their children to play or loiter around.” Murmu adds that they are now holding regular meetings with villagers.

On May 12, two people, including a tribal, were killed by angry tribals on fears of child-lifting in Jadugora and Asomboni. Still, the police did little apart from recovering the bodies. Sini Soren, the mukhiya for two consequetive terms at Uttar Kamardi village, rues that all this could have been avoided. “Police and administration should have taken the matter seriously from the beginning.”

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The child-lifting rumours also fanned anger that had already been building among tribals over changes to two land laws by the BJP government. At the end of 2016, the Das government had tabled Bills to amend the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act (CNT Act) 1908, and the Santhal Paragana Tenancy Act (SPT Act) 1949, despite massive protests.

The state government has said the amendments are meant to only allow acquisition of tribal land for building infrastructure such as roads, hospitals and educational institutions, while keeping the landholders’ ownership intact. Tribal groups and the Opposition, however, say the dilution of laws will pave the way for the government and private parties to gradually take over tribal land.

There have been rallies in various parts of Jharkhand on the issue. Even without the Opposition backing, restive tribal have been holding silent village meetings. “The flame is spreading in villages over the amendment of CNT and SPT. The government said the land will remain with tribal, but how?” says Ratan Tirkey, a tribal leader and member of the state Tribal Advisory Council. “I asked the CM to call all traditional tribal leaders to explain their initiative to the public. There is a lot of confusion, anger and insecurity among tribal.”

BJP leader Ramesh Hansda, however, accuses Opposition leaders of misleading the tribals. “The state is witnessing development and the Opposition has no other issue. Some leaders are giving provocative speeches where they are saying that the government will snatch tribal land and that IPC and CrPC is not for tribals. Some youths are getting brainwashed,” he says.

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Since the lynching, Shobhapur and Nagadi villages are deserted, with police hunting for the seven accused in the May 18 lynching. However, it hasn’t diminished the fears of the tribal. “So many children have been stolen from our villages,” says 70-year-old Barsha Murmu, among the few left behind in Nagadi. “We never let our children out of our sight now, even during the day. No child has gone to school from here in the past month.”

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Charred remain of a car on which the lynched youths ware travelling. (Source: Express photo by Subham Dutta)

Talking about May 18, she adds, “Everyone was so scared, the youth would patrol every night. One such evening, the outsiders were spotted and killed.” Anta Tudu, the tribal headsman of Shobhapur village, says he tried to stop the lynching. “In the wee hours, everyone shouted bachcha chor. We ran to the spot to find a few hundred people already there.

Everyone thought the rumors were true. I tried to make them understand, but failed. More people came from other villages within minutes because they too were wide awake. And then they killed the outsiders.” About 100 km away, in Nomail village in West Singhbhum district, Humdo Banding and his wife Monica are celebrating one happy ending. Last Tuesday, their 17-year-old daughter was restored to them after four years. In a repeat of Budhi’s daughter’s story, and of stories of countless girls like her, the teenager had been taken to Delhi to work as a domestic worker before she was reported “missing”. “We had trusted a neighbor, who told us she would get good education and even earn in Delhi.”

Monica says they left no stone upturned to find her. “Earlier this year, the Delhi Police rescued some trafficking victims and sent them to Ranchi.” One of them was their daughter. Jaideo Kardi, the center co-coordinator for Childline in Chaibasa, says they got her back to her parents on May 23. “We had almost lost hope,” says Monica. The 17-year-old remains in shock and hardly wants to leave home now. Neither do Monica’s other five children.