7 rural girls’ bid to get a phot-perfect frame

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With cameras in their hands, confidence on their faces and the hope for a better future in their minds, seven young girls from Palkot, hopped from one village to another, clicking photographs of every thing they thought deserved to be captured in frame. Their work will be showcased in international photographyexhibitions.
From never seeing a camera up close to being able to capture some beautiful moments, from never understanding how the device works to being taught by renouned photographers, these students of class 11 of Utkramit Madhya Vidyalaya, Palkot, went a long way in just three days.

During the three-day period starting Thursday, the girls attended a photography workshop organized at the government school by Shakti Vahini, a Delhi-based social organization which deals in anti-human trafficking activities and ‘24 hours project’, an international platform for photographers and journalists to showcase their work.

The seven girls were selected after the workshop which ended on Saturday and they were given cameras after arming them with the basics of photography by international-level photographers, Renzo Grande from Peru and Smita Sharma of India.

The objective the workshop was to open a new avenue for the girls, for whom skill development usually mean learning to stitch or make bamboo baskets to earn a livelihood.

The girls were asked about what they want to capture with their cameras and some came up with replies like family, birds and forests, but a few others had a different approach altogether.

One of the girls, Sapna Kumari, said, “I want to capture the hospital in my village which is locked up and the school where there is a shortage of teachers. I want to capture the problems my family and friends face so that it can reach the government and something is done towards improving the situation.”

Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini said, “These girls have been introduced to a new field in which they can have a career and they are excited about it. Before the workshop, they are taught about embroidery, stitching or handicraft. We have tried to provide a new skill development training for them in the form of photography.”

Photographer Smita Sharma said, “The pictures taken by these girls would be showcased in international exhibitions organized in US, Australia, Italy and other countries. If they continue with the training, they can have a career in photography.”

“There is a lot of option for female photographers, right from freelancing to wedding photography. In the last three days, I have seen the progress in these girls and I can say that if they really want to, they can become really good photographers,” she added.

The workshop is a part of 24 hours project, an effort to connect photographers, photojournalists and visual story tellers from across the globe. Photographers from 158 countries are a part of the project this year.

Founder of the project, Renzo Grande said, “The theme of this year’s project is on stories of women from across the world and this workshop is a part of the project where we are inspiring these girls to show us their stories through photographs.”

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‘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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Didi used CCTVs to record my every move, fed me after seeing footage, says ‘torture’ victim

By The Indian Express:

The child, employed as a domestic help in Faridabad over the last three years, was rescued Wednesday when she attempted to climb into the neighbor's balcony to escape further torture.

“One time, in anger, didi took off all my clothes and threw hot water from the geyser on my back. Didi hit me on the head with a rolling pin and split it open. She hit me on my hand with loha (iron) or the rolling pin. She tied my hands behind my back with the doggy belt and my legs with a chunni. Then she tied a polythene on my mouth to stop me from breathing.” This is the statement of a 13-year-old domestic help to the Haryana State Commission for Protection of Child Rights.

The child, employed as a domestic help in Faridabad over the last three years, was rescued Wednesday when she attempted to climb into the neighbour’s balcony to escape further torture. She fell off and landed on the balcony of an empty flat below. She was rescued five hours late after her employer alerted guards, police said.

The child came to Faridabad from Patna in 2014, and started working as a domestic help at the flat of 22-year-old Sneha Yadav, an engineering student at Manav Rachna University. Sneha was granted bail by a district court on Friday. The girl’s parents, who reached Delhi on Thursday, work in the mines of Sneha’s father, Sanjay Yadav, in Patna. They hadn’t seen their daughter for the last three years — a period during which she was allegedly tortured and beaten.

The alleged ordeal inside house C-1101, however, remained hidden from residents of Kanishka Towers in Faridabad’s Sector 34. The flat is located on the top floor, and only two of the five other flats in the tower are occupied.

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Officials from the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights at the building in Faridabad. (Express Photo)

“She (Sneha) never seemed interested in interacting, so we did not make an effort either. We never heard anything from the flat, but that could be because the child’s screams were muffled,” said a resident who did not wish to be named.

However, another resident claimed, “Supervisors and guards knew about it, and they tried to convince the woman to stop troubling the girl. Apparently, she promised to send her back to Patna, so they dropped the matter.”

Narender Kumar Sharma, executive member of the residents’ welfare association, said, “Sneha kept to herself. Nobody from here has been to her flat.” While the guards refused to comment, the supervisor, Devender, said, “We do not interfere in what happens in residents’ homes. I didn’t know this was going on, nor did anyone approach me.”
Although the child was often seen walking her employer’s dog or going to buy groceries, nobody had spoken to her. “I noticed injury marks on her hand once, but didn’t ask her about it,” said an employee at a local shop.

In her statement to the State Commission, the child said, “If I ever spoke to anyone while coming or going from the lift, she (Sneha) would get angry.” Unable to confide in anyone, she spent the day doing “all the housework, cooking food, sweeping, mopping, washing dishes, washing clothes, bathing the dog and combing its fur”.

In her statement, she also said that “there were cameras all over didi’s house”. “She would check the cameras every evening, see what work had been done. Only after that would she give me food,” the girl said.

Police sources said a lot of the footage from the cameras is missing. Commissioner of Police Hanif Qureshi said, “The footage the cameras may or may not have captured is a matter of investigation.”

Recalling her escape bid, the child stated: “That day, didi had been hitting me since night. My head had been spinning since morning but she forced me to work. When she was in the bathroom, I decided to jump from the 11th floor and run away. But she saw me and grabbed my hand. I slipped and fell on the 10th-floor balcony.”

She was rescued by residents, who took her to the police station, and then to the Child Welfare Committee. While Faridabad Police is preparing to challenge the accused’s bail order in a sessions court, the girl has been admitted to a hospital. She has also been put under police protection so that she is not coerced into changing her statement.

“The child is in desperate need of medical attention. We will not hand over her custody to her parents. This appears to be a case of bonded labour, and they were the ones who put her into it,” Bal Krishan Goel, a member of the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, said.

SSB’S ROAD MAP TO CURB HUMAN TRAFFICKING YIELDS FOUR ARRESTS

By The Pioneer:

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In order to curb the menace of human trafficking from across the Indo-Nepal border, the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) has drawn a roadmap along with all stakeholders, including the NGOs, working against human trafficking.

Within a of span of 10 days since the road map was put into place on April 10, the SSB was able to nab four human traffickers and rescue 12 minors from the clutches of human traffickers on three different locations on Indo-Nepal border while crossing over to India.

“Human trafficking is just another name of modern day slavery, wherein the victim involved are forced, coerced and deceived into labour and sexual exploitations, the figures are scary. A workshop was also conducted by SSB in this regard and now this has yielded results by virtue of showing tremendous coordination,” said Archana Ramasundaram, Director General, SSB.

Not only this, the SSB has also signed a MoU with National Skill Development Council (NSDC) for providing skill development and better opportunities to the victims and potential victims so that can they lead an independent life .

As per the road map, emphasis is on use of technology and softwares such as Impulse for better monitoring of the cases and also keeping track of victims, their rehabilitation and prosecution of offenders.

Nepal is primarily considered a country of origin — a source for human trafficking. Victims of trafficking from Nepal move to India or the Middle East or even to Europe.  As per Nepal’s official figures, the Ministry of Women Children and social Welfare of Nepal had identified 26 of Nepal’s 75 districts as trafficking prone. Majority is from the hills, ethnic and schedule castes.

India shares 1751 kms  of porous borders with Nepal and 699 kms of porous borders with Bhutan and the SSB is mandated by Central Government to guard Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bhutan borders. After the deployment of SSB on these borders human trafficking has been curtailed to considerable extent.

“The common place understanding of trafficking as akin to prostitution is often responsible for general ignorance to the other forms of exploitations such as child labour, slavery, adoption, organ trading, sex tourism etc. the complexity of the phenomenon, its multidimensional nature, its rapid spread worldwide and confusion surrounding the concept has made urgent and essential need to understand the various aspect of the phenomenon,” the DG said.

The workshop was intended to bring along all the stakeholders fighting against the menace of human trafficking to a common platform from across Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bhutan Border and also in the area of responsibility of SSB which extends up to 15 kms from the International border.

 

Bengal girl escapes traffickers’ clutches

By DNA:

The 16-year-old had been abducted a month ago and was about to be forced into prostitution; she was re-united with her family on Eid

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This Eid has turned out to be nothing less than miraculous for a West Bengal family that was reunited with their 16-year-old daughter Nazia (name changed), over a month after she went missing from home.

Nazia was abducted by some local men in 24 Parganas district. The month of horrors saw the young girl face torture, sexual harassment, starvation, and the dreadful possibility of being forced into prostitution.

But showing commendable courage, the teen managed to escape the clutches of her tormentors.

“She was trapped by the lure of a better future. Some local men abducted her from near her school and took her to Mumbai. She was assaulted, left to starve, and was about to be pushed into prostitution. But now, she has been saved and has returned home on the occasion of Eid,” Rishikant from NGO Shakti Vahini said.

Nazia had been confined to a flat on the first-floor in outer Delhi.

The entire episode came to light last week, when she jumped off a window. She injured her leg in the process but still kept running.

After a few meters, she bumped into a stranger and pleaded for help. She then called her father from his phone, who immediately alerted a senior police officer and the girl’s rescue was initiated without delay.

The matter was then brought to the notice of Delhi Police and NGO Shakti Vahini, after which the premises were raided. Another girl, who was abducted from Haryana, was also recovered from there. Recalling her ordeal, Nazia told the police that after her abduction, she was taken to Mumbai, where she was employed as a bar dancer. She was then brought to Delhi and was soon to be shifted to GB Road.

A case under Indian Penal Code (IPC) Sections 363 (punishment for kidnapping) and 365 (kidnapping or abducting with intent secretly and wrongfully to confine person) has been registered.

Counselling sessions will be arranged for both girls to help them overcome the trauma and lead normal lives, an officer said.

Assam slips in rescuing kids – 93 children trafficked in 2016 untraced

By The Telegraph:

Assam’s performance in tracking its trafficked children and women was dismal in 2016, compared to 2015, data tabled in the Lok Sabha has revealed.

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The data, tabled recently, reveals that 130 children were trafficked from Assam in 2016, of whom only 37 were rescued. The fate of 93 remains unknown. Comparatively, of the 129 children trafficked in 2015, 101 were rescued, a success rate of 78 per cent compared to 28 per cent in 2016.

The trend in terms of rescue of women is similar. The data says 163 women were trafficked from the state in 2016, of whom only 63 were rescued, a success rate of 38 per cent, whereas in 2015, 187 women were trafficked from the state of whom 137 were rescued, a success rate of 73 per cent.

Trafficking is a serious problem in Assam. The state had recorded the highest number of human trafficking cases in the country in 2015 and continues to be among the top trafficking zones.

Union minister of state for home affairs Hansraj Gangaram Ahir had told the Lok Sabha recently that police and public order are state subjects. As such, the registration, investigation and prevention of human trafficking is the responsibility of the state government. “However, the Centre supplements the efforts of the state governments by issuing advisories from time to time and providing financial assistance for setting up anti-human trafficking units at the district level. Besides, training is provided to state police personnel to check trafficking. The Centre has also signed an MoU on prevention of human trafficking with Bangladesh and UAE,” he said.

Rishi Kant, spokesperson for Delhi-based anti-trafficking NGO Shakti Vahini, said a large number of women and children from Assam and other northeastern states are trafficked to different states in the country. Hence inter-state collaboration of law enforcement agencies and civil society groups needs to be strengthened further to trace and rescue trafficked children and women and to arrest the persons involved in such crimes.

Most of the children from the state end up at illegal placement agencies in Delhi and Mumbai, which employ them as labourers and even push some in the flesh trade.

A police source said most of the children and women are lured by traffickers with the promise of a better life. The traffickers mostly target poor families from marginalised communities and those rendered homeless by floods and ethnic violence.

In 2014, the Supreme Court, during the hearing of a PIL by NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan, had specifically asked Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh governments to trace the whereabouts of 12,591 children missing since 2011. The NGO, led by Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi, had sought the court’s intervention in tracing the missing children.

According to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report, 7,788 children went missing from Assam between 2009 and 2014. Of them, 3,569 children were traced.

A published report of the Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights says 4,754 children, who went missing in the state between 2012 and October 2014, have remained untraced.

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.

Bengal Trafficking Bolt-Over 6000 women, children targeted from state in 2016: Govt

By Avijit Sinha:

The data presented by the Union government in Rajya Sabha today showed that 3,856 women and children had been trafficked from Bengal in 2015 and the number increased to 6,672 the following year, the highest in the country.

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Krishna Raj, the Union minister of state for women and child development, said in Rajya Sabha that in 2016, a total of 19,223 women and children had been trafficked from all states and union territories in the country. Among the states, Bengal recorded the highest number of trafficking cases at 6,672. In 2015, the number of trafficked women and children in India was 15,448 and 3,856 of them were from Bengal.

The minister has presented the data compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) at a time several cases of child trafficking have been registered in Bengal, from Baduria in the south to Jalpaiguri in the north.

In 2016, the number of women and children trafficked from Bengal has increased by 72 per cent and 73 per cent, respectively, compared to the previous year.

In 2014, the state, according to the NCRB, had reported the highest number of children missing: 14,671. A substantial number of the missing children are victims of trafficking, say government sources.

The other states that reported high numbers of trafficking are Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu (see chart).

“In north Bengal, the most vulnerable are tea estate dwellers in the Dooars. Human traffickers can easily lure children and women with offers of jobs in other states,” said Soumen Nag, a researcher based in Siliguri.

The government sources said the actual number of trafficking cases might be higher than the NCRB figures as several incidents went unreported. “Sale of children from an orphanage in Jalpaiguri has recently come to light. If such cases are put together, the figures will go up,” a retired administrative official said.

A senior state government official said: “Bengal lies along both national and international borders. Maybe, more cases of missing persons are lodged in our state as the government insists on filing an FIR, not a general diary, for every missing person.”

Shakti Vahini, a Delhi-based NGO working against human trafficking, said more awareness campaigns needed to be held to fight the malady.

“We have been working closely with police and the government in rescuing victims. We need to move further into interiors of the state to spread awareness among girls,” said Rishi Kant of the NGO.

Awareness campaigns have played a vital role in preventing human trafficking in South 24 Parganas. The district, which used to report the highest number of trafficking incidents in Bengal, has shown a steady decline in the cases after the police took up a campaign, which was formalised as Swayangsiddha a year ago.

According to police figures, the district had reported 3,894 cases of human trafficking in 2014. The number went down to 2,853 in 2015 and 2,457 in 2016.

Kant said although trafficking cases were higher in the state, the rate of recovery of victims by the police had also gone up, pointing to the NCRB figures placed in Lok Sabha on February 7.

Bengal reports some of the highest recovery numbers. In 2014, 5,022 women who had been missing from the state were recovered. In 2015, the figure was 2,864.

“Police teams from different parts of Bengal often visit Delhi and other parts of India to rescue victims. Most importantly, they are targeting traffickers now,” Kant said.

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.

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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.

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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.

Girl jumps off first floor to escape from traffickers

By Somreet Bhattacharya| TNN , New Delhi:

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A 16-year-old girl, who was trafficked to Delhi from West Bengal and forced into prostitution, managed to escape from the custody of her tormentors on Wednesday. She jumped off the first floor of a house in outer Delhi’s Rohini where she was locked up for days.

She had suffered injuries due to the fall but convinced a passerby to help her call her parents in South 24 Parganas in West Bengal. Later, a joint team of NGO Shakti Vahini and Delhi Police rescued the girl.

In her statement, the girl told the cops that she was abducted by a group of men from outside her school and taken to Mumbai. She was given a job at a dance bar before being forced into flesh trade. One day, she managed to call her parents from a customer’s phone and informed them about her location. However, the traffickers got wind of it and she was shifted her to a house in Rohini.

“The cops in West Bengal traced her to the house in Rohini with the help of technical surveillance and sought our help in rescuing her,” said Rishi Kanth from Shakti Vahini.

However, the traffickers managed to evade the cops. Initially, the rescue team looked for the girl in Rohini, G B Road and a few other places but failed to trace her until she again called her parents on Wednesday night.

“We got a lead when she again called her father and informed him that she was in Madanpur Khadar in southeast Delhi,” added Kanth.

Accordingly, her father had informed a senior police officer in her home town, who in turn, forwarded the details to Delhi Police through the NGO. In the meantime, the passerby had informed police and she was taken to a hospital as she sustained injuries while escaping from the clutches of the traffickers.
She was brought to Delhi by a man with a promise of marriage. Then, she was sold to someone else. She was kept in a flat in Jaiptur before being moved to the Rohini house.

The girl told the cops that the man took away her nose and ear-rings, made of gold, and sold them to bear the cost of the flat. He also threatened to kill her if she raised an alarm while she was in his custody.

 NGO officials said that they established contact with her parents and that she would soon be reunited with her family. Police are trying to track down the traffickers.