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.

Why did the West Bengal girls’ welfare scheme win the UN Public Service Award this year?

By The Hindu:

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In 2014, Rehana (name changed), a 15-year old from a school in West Bengal’s Sunderbans region, was rescued from a red light area in Delhi. The Class IX student had been ensnared by traffickers who then sold her off in Kolkata. After being brought back, the local administration and a non-governmental organisation (NGO) re-enrolled her in school. They feared she would drop out in months. Her script ran differently though. Rehana is today training to become a nurse.

Activist Rishi Kanta, whose NGO Shakti Vahini in Delhi aids in the rescue of trafficked girls and women, believes it is the West Bengal government’s girl child welfare scheme, Kanyashree Prakalpa, that has helped Rehana and others like her make a new life.

A lifeline

“Not only has the scheme prevented schoolgirls vulnerable to trafficking from dropping out, it has also offered a lifeline to girls like Rehana who did not have much institutional support after being rescued,” says Rishi Kanta. In June, Kanyashree Prakalpa was awarded the United Nation’s Public Service Award at The Hague.

Instituted in 2013, Kanyashree Prakalpa is a conditional cash-transfer scheme aimed at improving the status and well-being of the girlchild. Official statistics say there are around 41.2 lakh beneficiaries (as of July 25, 2017) of the scheme, implemented through 15,826 institutes and schools. “We want to ensure that every eligible person gets the benefits of the scheme,” says Shashi Panja, Minister of State for Women & Child Development and Social Welfare.

West Bengal was a ripe case for such a scheme. Although child marriage is prohibited by law, the State was among the top five when it came to early marriages. Further, in districts such as Murshidabad, Birbhum, Malda and Purulia, every second girlchild was found married off before 18. These are also districts where trafficking of girls is fairly common.

Now, National Family Health Survey statistics show that the number of women married before 18 has dropped from 53.3% in 2004-05 to 40.7% in 2015-16, though still above the national average of 26.8%.

Experts says the launch of the cash incentive scheme has convinced many families to send their daughters to school and also delay their marriage (the scheme offers a one-time grant of ₹25,000, apart from annual scholarships, when the girl turns 18 and if she is studying in school or undergoing vocational training).

In April 2015, when Lakshmi Gorai from Raipur in Bankura district was pulled out of school to be forcibly married off, the district administration intervened and stopped her parents. When the family claimed they had no means to keep the 15-year-old in school, the authorities enrolled Gorai and other school-going girls from the neighbourhood in the Kanyashree scheme.

Ayesha Sultana, a first-year B.A. student at Women’s Christian College in Kolkata, was enrolled in the Kanyashree scheme by her school when she was in Class VIII. The yearly scholarships, she says, helped her continue studies, and subsequently encouraged 20 other girls from her lower-middle-class neighbourhood in Mominpur to join school.

Staying ahead

“The scheme has come as encouragement to pursue higher studies. The ₹25,000 grant will help me complete my graduation,” Sultana says. Officials say the scheme has also helped girls stay ahead of boys in the board-level examinations. This year, girls accounted for 69% of the candidates in the West Bengal Madrasah Board Examination.

The tangible benefits aside, officials say the scheme has motivated young girls, especially in the rural and semi-urban areas, and encouraged them to stand up for themselves. In many places, Kanyashree Sanghas (associations) have been formed and according to reports, these are now the first line of defence against child marriages. The sanghas also help identify girls who have dropped out of school.

Recently, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced that the scheme would soon be extended to cover postgraduation studies as well.

Battered and bruised, some return, some are never to be seen again..

Meets MotherBy N Sai Published in the DNA News

In the last of the three-part series, dna travels to remote villages of India’s ‘slavery belt’, some of the remotest and backward areas of Jharkhand. Rescued slaves and the parents of those who have never come back reveal what makes these tribals easy targets

Ranchi: The road to Jahupkokotoli village in the Maoist-hit district of Gumla is a contradiction of sorts. As the two-lane road snakes through the forests and rolling hills of the Chottanagpur plateau, bauxite-laden trucks are the only constant reminder of activity here. Yet the public transport to this part of Jharkhand from the state capital Ranchi is rickety. The only bus everyday is as uncertain as life in this extremely backward region of India. Despite the lack of public transport, thousands of tribal boys and girls from Gumla-Khunti-Simdega region, India’s unofficial ‘slavery belt’, are transported and trafficked to upper middle class and rich homes of Delhi. After a period of enslavement and unpaid forced labour, many return battered and bruised. Some are never to be seen again. Some still carry on.

In Jahupkokotoli, an aboriginal hamlet of 160 Oraon tribal families, 45-year-old Mathoo comes running with a picture of his 14-year-old daughter. “Help me find her. I haven’t seen her after she went away in 2007,” says Mathoo. His daughter would be 21 now, but Mathoo doesn’t know her fate after she was taken by a ‘placement agent’ from a neighbouring village to Delhi to work as a domestic help. Within two months, the agent sent Mathoo Rs 1000 as a payment for his daughter’s ‘services’. Next year, he called up the agent again to inquire about his daughter. “The agent said that my daughter had run away and that he did not know her whereabouts. I do not know whether she is dead or alive,” says Mathoo.

A few houses away from Mathoo’s is the hut of Hari Oraon. His 16-year-old daughter Pramila was taken by an agent to Delhi in early 2014. But she ‘escaped’ within four months and came back. According to her statement to police, Pramila was taken to Delhi by another woman of the same village in the promise of a better life. As soon as she arrived in Delhi she was escorted to a Shakurpur-based placement agency by an agent. They took her finger prints on a piece of paper and sent her to work as a domestic maid at three different homes in Delhi. Facing ill-treatment and not having been paid by any of her employers or the placement agency, Pramila escaped. Lost on the streets in Delhi, she begged another woman to take her home. The woman instead handed her over to the Delhi police. The Delhi police handed her over to a shelter home in the capital from where she was taken to Kishori Niketan, a rehab centre for trafficked women in Bijupara, Jharkhand. Finally in April 2014, she was re-united with her family. For her work as a domestic help in Delhi, Pramila wasn’t paid any money. “The police left her in nearby Bishunpur from where we picked her up and got her home,” says Hari Oraon. “She says she will never go back to Delhi.”

Off the road from Bishunpur lies the Dalit village of Hadiya Toli, literally translating into ‘wine village’. There is no road connectivity to the village and reaching here requires walking a kilometre on a dusty track. The name of 15-year-old Sarita alias Budhni evinces a peculiar response from the village men. “That Dilli-return?”, one asks with a wry smile. “Who knows where she is,” says another. “Ask her mother. She might know.” We find her mother working outside her hut and as the conversation about her daughter nears completion, she says, “Who will marry her now? Who knows what might have happened to her in Delhi?”

Sarita disappeared from her house in 2013 with five other girls after an agent in her village promised her lucrative money in Delhi. Sarita says, “I was promised a monthly wage of Rs 5000. After working four months for an agency in Motinagar in Delhi, I asked for some money. They refused and locked me up instead. I begged to let me go home. But they said I cannot go home before I completed five years. Then one day the police raided the place and they took me in their custody,” says Sarita. She was finally sent home in April 2013.

“There were other girls in that house. I do not know what happened to them. I did not even get the money for my work,” says Sarita. When asked about the nature of her work, Sarita maintains an uneasy silence. Sarita is lucky enough to be back in her village. Even though her village doesn’t have either electricity, drinking water supply or roads, she feels safer here than in any of Delhi’s slave holes.

Phulin Murmu, 18, however doesn’t want to return to her village. Phulin Murmu is not a name that would ring a bell. But when she was found burnt, battered and bitten in a house in South Delhi’s posh Vasant Kunj locality it made national headlines in October 2013. She was found in the house of Vandana Dhir, an executive with a French multinational. Murmu’s body bore hot girdle-induced burn marks, deep scars on the head and bite marks all over her body. She was forced to drink urine, prevented from using the bathroom and confined in the house in a semi-naked condition before being rescued. She was working unpaid for two years before being rescued.

DNA tracked her down at a rehabilitation centre in Khunti, one of the hardest hit districts of the slavery belt. She is being educated and trained at the Mahilya Samkhya Society, which she shares with around 30 other minor girls, many of whom are rescued slaves. Phulin can barely write her name, the scars still show on her face. But she details her three years of enslavement with a brave face and with no emotion. “It is for the first time that I am seeing her talk so openly. It seems she is recovering well from the trauma,” says Asha Kusum, the warden of the institution. The Mahilya Samkhya Society is wary of letting Phulin rejoin her parents in her village. They ask her father to come to town for Christmas. They don’t want to take a chance again. “Most kids are from extremely poor tribal families. Their parents will send them to Delhi for any small amount. Phulin is safe here – from poverty and from agents who would want to prey on her again. She is still scared inside. She will only get better,” says Ms Kusum

मानव तस्करी के खिलाफ खड़ी हुई शक्ति वाहिनी

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PUBLISHED IN DAINIK JAGRAN

जागरण संवाददाता, सिलीगुड़ी:

मानव तस्करी अपने आप में एक जघन्य अपराध है। किंतु आज भी मानव तस्करी धड़ल्ले से की जाती है। कभी विवाह का प्रलोभन देकर तो कभी नौकरी देने के बहाने तस्करी की जाती है। खासकर बच्चों और महिलाआंे की तस्करी की जाती है। ऐसे में एक संस्था आगे आई जिसे शक्तिवाहिनी के नाम से जाना जाता है। इसकी स्थापना सर्वप्रथम दिल्ली में वर्ष 2001 में हुई थी। तीन भाइयों ने मिलकर इसकी स्थापना की थी।

जिसमें रविकांत इसके अध्यक्ष है। निशीकांत एक कार्यकर्ता और ऋषिकांत एक एक्जेक्यूटिव डायरेक्टर है। इसी कड़ी के तहत वर्ष जुलाई वर्ष 2011 में शहर में भी शक्तिवाहिनी नामक संस्था की स्थापना की गई। जिसका प्रमुख उद्देश्य था यहां से तस्करी की गई महिलाओं को मुक्त कराना। इस संबंध में संस्था से जुड़े निशिकांत का कहना है कि इन तीन वषरे में पूरे देश से आठ सौ महिलाआंे और बच्चों को तस्करों के चंगुल से छुड़वाया गया। जिसमें तीन सौ पचास महिलाएं बंगाल से हैं। जिसमें चालीस प्रतिशत बच्चियां है। इसी कड़ी के तहत रविकांत कहते हैं कि इस शहर सहित छह जिलों में संस्था द्वारा कार्यालय बनाने की जरूरत महसूस तब की गई। जब हम देखते थे कि अक्सर तस्करी की गई महिलाएं इस राज्य से जुड़ी होती थी।

खासकर पहाड़ी और चाय बागान इलाके की होती थी। ऐसे में हमलोगों ने निर्णय लिया कि जब यहीं से तस्करी की जाती है तो यहीं पर कार्यालय की स्थापना की जानी चाहिए। ताकि प्रकार की तस्करी को रोका जा सके। इस बारे में यहां के लोगों बताया जाए। 1संस्था से जुड़े दीप बनर्जी कहते हैं जागरूकता अभियान चलाने के लिए लिए ग्रुप बनाए गए है जो विभिन्न स्थानों पर जागरूकता अभियान चलाते हैं।

दार्जिलिंग जिले में पांच ग्रुप बनाए गए है। जो सुदूर ग्रामीण इलाकों में जाकर वहां के पंचायत प्रधान, अध्यापिकाएं सहित महिलाओं को लेकर बातचीत करते हैं। उन्हें समझाया जाता है कि वे शादी और नौकरी इत्यादि का झांसा देने वालों के चक्कर में ना आए। पुरी जांच पड़ताल करे। इसके साथ ही स्कूलों में जागरूकता अभियान चलाया जा रहा है। 1जलपाईगुड़ी हाई स्कूल, मारवाड़ी हाई स्कूल, कालियांगज गल्र्स हाई स्कूल, सिलीगुड़ी देशबंधु उच्च बालिका विद्यालय, शक्तिगढ़ बालिका विद्यालय, बाल्मिकी विद्यापीठ, एक्तिसियाल स्कूल, घुघुमाली हाई स्कूल, अठारखाई उच्च बालिका विद्यालय, इलापाल चौधरी हिंदी हाई स्कूल सहित अन्य स्कूलों में जाकर विद्यार्थियों को बताया गया है कि वे किसी प्रकार प्रलोभन में ना आए। अपने आसपास के लोगों को भी इस बारे में बताए कि इस प्रकार का गिरोह सक्रिय है।

इस मौके पर विद्यार्थियों को इस मुद्दे से जुड़ी फिल्म भी दिखाई जाती है। किस प्रकार से एक छात्र की सूझबूझ से एक लड़की की तस्करी होने से बच जाती है। हाल ही में अनुपमा खोजे नामक नाटक जक्शंन, एनजेपी, माटीगाड़ा, कोर्ट मोड़ सहित शहर के मुख्य इलाकों और सड़कों पर खेला गया। जिसमें दिखाया गया कि किस प्रकार की मीठी बातें कर फंसाया जाता है। जो इस प्रकार की बातें करे उनसे सावधान रहे। जिसमें अंकूर नाट्य गोष्ठी की सक्रिय भूमिका रही। इसके अलावा कन्याश्री योजना के बारे में भी जागरूक किया जा रहा है। जिसमें 13 से 18 वर्ष तक की कन्या इसका लाभ उठा सकती है। इसके अलावा बच्चियों को कक्षा आठ में इनरोल होना चाहिए। इस योजना के बारे में बताने का मुख्य लक्ष्य है कि इससे बाल विवाह पर रोक लगती है। बच्चियों को पढ़ने का अवसर मिलता है। इसके अलावा हर थाने में पैंपलेट बांटे गए हैं। हेल्पलाइन नंबर दिया गया है।नुक्कड़ नाटक के माध्यम से मानव तस्करी के प्रति बच्चों को जागरूक करते शक्तिवाहिनी के सदस्य।जागरण

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.